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Published in Print: November 10, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup

News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Halloween Take Earns 'A' And (D)etention, Too

A 7th grader in Ponder, Texas was put in a detention center for six days for writing a Halloween story in which he depicted himself shooting three classmates and his teacher. Christopher Beamon received an A on the assignment, titled "Things That Go Bump in the Night," and extra credit for reading it aloud on Oct. 27 to his English/language arts class at the 230-student Ponder High School, located 50 miles northwest of Dallas.

But according to a statement released by the boy's lawyer, William B. Short Jr., school officials who learned about the story when the teacher passed it along to them thought Christopher had "stepped over the line," and they called the local sheriff's office. Mr. Short said the student was charged with writing a terrorist note that made threats.

Those charges were dropped last week, and Christopher was released from the Denton Juvenile Detention Center.

Christopher's mother is considering filing a civil action against the 600-student Ponder Independent School District for damages, the lawyer said. District officials did not return phone calls seeking comment last week.

—Michelle Galley

Too Religious for 1st Grade?

The parents of a 1st grader in the Baldwinsville Central district in upstate New York are alleging in a federal lawsuit that school officials violated the boy's constitutional rights by rejecting a homework assignment last year because of its religious content.

Antonio Peck was in kindergarten at the 575-student Catherine McNamara Elementary School when he drew a poster on the environment expressing the view, through its title and cutout art, that God was "the only way to save our world."

His teacher said it was too religious to be displayed, according to the suit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Syracuse. Officials of the 6,000-student district contend the work was rejected because it was not relevant to the assignment.

The boy's lawyer, Matthew Staver, the general counsel of the Orlando, Fla.-based group Liberty Counsel, said the suit would not have been filed if the school had followed the U.S. Department of Education's 1995 guidelines on religious expression in public schools.

—Robert C. Johnston

Principal's Past Missed

A New Hampshire elementary school principal charged in April with possessing heroin had three previous drug convictions.

Margaret Loder-Healy, the principal of the 335-student K-5 Memorial Elementary School in Newton, pleaded not guilty before a federal magistrate last month to a misdemeanor charge of drug possession.

A spokesman for the Rockingham County police department confirmed last week that Ms. Loder-Healy had a list of previous convictions on drug and shoplifting charges that dated back 19 years.

Ms. Loder-Healy is on paid administrative leave.

—Debra Viadero

Student Dies in Fistfight

The death of a Bellevue, Neb., sophomore during a fistfight with a classmate has been ruled an accident, according to police.

Jonathan Leggitt, 15, died Oct. 26 during a fight with a 16-year old classmate in the cafeteria of the 1,500-student Bryan High School in the Omaha school district.

After throwing the first punches and scuffling with the other boy, also a sophomore, Mr. Leggitt struck his head when he fell to the floor, said John Stacey, the deputy chief of the Bellevue police.

What the students were fighting about was not clear, Mr. Stacey said, and the other boy will not be charged. Mr. Leggitt was pronounced dead on arrival at University Hospital in Omaha.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Student Killed at Dismissal

Two Philadelphia youths arrested for shooting a 16-year-old sophomore in front of his school will be charged with murder.

Donald McNeil, a sophomore at Martin Luther King High School in the 215,000-student Philadelphia district was shot Oct. 26 as he and hundreds of other students were being let out early around 1:30 p.m.

Philadelphia police have charged Larry Burton, 19, and Kenyon Hill, 17, with the murder. Neither of the young men charged attended the 2,400-student high school.

The shooting involved a dispute over a 15-year old girl who attended King, said Thomas Nestel, the commander of the city's 14th Police District.

—Adrienne D. Coles

School Told To Teach Evolution

A Colorado school board wants a charter school under its control to face the politically charged issue of human evolution.

The Poudre school board last month passed a resolution saying the Liberty Common School's policy of avoiding discussion of human evolution violates its promise to teach the Core Knowledge Sequence curriculum in the 23,400-student district in Fort Collins.

The K-9 charter school prohibited the study of human evolution in an attempt to avoid discussions of creationism—which it says are inappropriate for science classes—and not because the school takes a religious point of view, said Kathryn A. Knox, the headmaster of the 500-student school. The charter school's board of directors will review its policy and may soon make changes to satisfy the Poudre school board, Ms. Knox added.

—David J. Hoff

Student Sues Over Armband

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a student who was told to remove a black armband she wore to protest a mandatory uniform policy at the 1,000-student Parkway High School.

Principal Kim Gaspard told the student that not removing the armband would be a violation of the school uniform policy, which could possibly mean suspension.

Although the student did take off the armband, she and her parents are against the policy that led to its removal, according to Mr. Cook.

The lawsuit was filed Nov. 1 in U.S. District Court in Shreveport, La., in the name of the student's mother, Elizabeth Fisher. It names the principal and the Bossier Parish school board as defendants.

—Candice Furlan

Children Hurt at School Party

Several people were injured when a horse carrying a teacher got spooked during an Oct. 29 Halloween party at 790-student Castlebay Lane Elementary School in the 700,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District.

Three children and the teacher were taken to local hospitals to be treated for injuries sustained when the horse got startled, probably by loud music, according to witnesses, and "bolted" as it was led on to the school's playground, according to Jim Wells, a spokesman for the Los Angeles City Fire Department.

As many as a dozen other students also were treated on the scene by paramedics for minor injuries, he added.

School officials could not be reached for comment.

—Robert C. Johnston

Ky. District Back in Charge

The Kentucky school board has returned control of school finances to the Pike County district, ending the emergency state financial control imposed at the end of the 1997-98 school year.

The 11,000-student district reported a deficit of approximately $500,000 in 1998. Under Kentucky law, whenever a district ends the year with a deficit, the state takes financial control until the district draws up a budget plan and completes a school year without incurring red ink, said Jim Parks, a spokesman for the state education department.

David Lester, the director of personnel for the district, attributed the financial turnaround to a streamlined spending program and greater efficiency in purchasing that were instituted under the new financial plan.

—Meghan Mullan

Alleged Plot Investigated

After learning about an alleged plot by a group of students to attack their high school, Cleveland authorities closed the school Oct. 29 and canceled a weekend homecoming game and dance.

Michael R. White

Four 9th graders—all boys—purportedly involved in the plot were arrested last week and were being held at a Cuyahoga County detention center, Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White said at a news conference.

They were charged with inciting violence and inducing panic, and one student was charged with possession of firearms. Mr. White did not specify details of the alleged plan, but said it involved "violent acts.''

According to The Plain Dealer newspaper, the students had planned to use guns and homemade explosives to kill students, teachers, and administrators at the 1,500-student South High School just before noon Oct. 30.

Bill Wendling, a spokesman for the 77,000-student system, said a student overheard the plot and told her mother, who reported it to a South High administrator Oct. 27. He said the school had a smooth reopening Nov. 1.

—Kerry A. White

Vol. 19, Issue 11, Page 4

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