News in Brief: A National Roundup
Discrimination Probe Begins In North Carolina District
Federal education officials last week visited Chatham County, N.C., to investigate claims that the school system there discriminates against minorities.
Following up on a complaint by a local community group, officials from the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights were looking into charges that the 6,600-student district has a disproportionate number of minority students in special education programs and too few such students in gifted and talented programs.
The community group, Correcting Racial Injustices for Success in Society, filed the complaint last summer in part because its members believe the district failed to respond appropriately to an incident involving a group of white students who posed in a yearbook photo with twine nooses around their necks.
Superintendent Larry Mabe declined last week to comment on the investigation.
—Jessica L. Sandham
Retirement Lottery in Colo.
More than 90 out of 123 teachers who want to retire from the Colorado Springs, Colo., district this year will not be eligible for incentive packages because of district budget problems, according to district officials. Some of the retiring teachers had to participate in a lottery to see who would be able to retire with the extra compensation.
Even though the retirement of higher-paid veteran teachers will free up revenue in the next budget year, the district can't offer all retiring teachers the full package because "we just don't have the up-front money to do it," said David Schenkel, a human resources official with the 33,000-student district.
The average value of the incentive package this year amounts to about $32,000 in payment for accumulated sick leave and $7,500 in health-insurance premiums. Those teachers who lost out on the incentives have until March 20 to rescind their retirement letters and try again next year.
Diploma Seals Challenged
School officials in 30 Pennsylvania districts have signed resolutions against a new program that would affix a special seal to the diplomas of graduates who scored well on the state's proficiency exam.
Part of the state's new academic standards, the program consists of a "seal of proficiency," and for higher-scoring students, a "seal of distinction." The seals are meant as an incentive for students to take the new test seriously and to reward good performance, according to Daniel Langan, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
David H. Robbins, the superintendent for the 2,800-student Daniel Boone school district, and a spokesman for the districts opposed to the diploma-seal program, said the state education department had overstepped its bounds because local districts have the authority to set graduation requirements and award diplomas. He added that the program is unfair because it is scheduled to be implemented with the graduating class of 2003 to students who did not have the benefit of the new curriculum standards in their primary grades.
Fla. School Bans Hot Dogs
A middle school in Broward County, Fla., has banned hot dogs indefinitely, and some parents have called for a districtwide ban, after an 11-year-old boy choked to death Jan. 6.
Sawgrass Springs Middle School in Coral Springs has stopped serving hot dogs and corn dogs after 6th grader Kevin Rodriguez died outside the school's cafeteria when a bite of hot dog lodged in his windpipe.
Three school employees, all of whom had received medical training, were unable to save the boy, said Joe Donzelli, a spokesman for the 240,000-student Broward schools.
The American Academy of Pediatrics considers hot dogs a choking hazard, but only for very young children.
E-mail Prompts Suspensions
A South Carolina district has placed several employees on administrative leave for sending sexually explicit photos by e-mail.
Ten Berkeley County school employees—including teachers, administrators, and district office personnel—were suspended with pay Jan. 14 pending further investigation.
Superintendent Chester Floyd received an anonymous e-mail Jan. 12 that contained a list of the users involved as well as a copy of the photo.
The district restricts employees from accessing inappropriate material and requires them to sign a form acknowledging that any violation could result in penalties including legal charges, said Pam Bailey, a spokeswoman for the 26,700-student district.
—Adrienne D. Coles
Bill Would End Bilingual Ed.
Calling the nation's oldest bilingual education law "a mistake of epic proportions," a Massachusetts lawmaker has proposed replacing the program with a one-year English-immersion course.
In a Jan. 11 news conference to announce his proposed legislation, state Sen. Guy W.Glodis noted that Hispanics have the highest dropout rates and lowest test scores in the state.
Mr. Glodis, a Democrat, was joined by Ron Unz, a California businessman who crafted the successful ballot initiative that curtailed bilingual education there. Massachusetts has 40,000 students in bilingual education courses under the 1971 law that created such programs.
About 50 demonstrators, including state Rep. Jarrett T. Barrios, a Democrat, gathered at the Statehouse to denounce the proposed legislation a day after it was filed.
Long Journey Home
A surprise snowfall that hit the nation's capital and its suburbs last week caused extensive school bus delays in two Maryland districts.
In Prince George's County, Md., some students did not arrive home until after 11 p.m. because of traffic snarls caused by the Jan. 19 storm. Jocelyn Harris, a spokeswoman for the 130,000-student district, said district officials notified parents of the delays, which involved about 160 buses,as quickly as possible. Some buses had minor weather-related accidents, but no children were hurt, Ms. Harris said.
In neighboring Montgomery County, buses were still transporting students home between 8 and 9 p.m. Brian J. Porter, a spokesman for the 128,000-student district, said that less than half an inch of snow fell on the area, but the combination of rush-hour traffic and icy conditions led to the delays.
Teen Acquitted of Conspiracy
A jury in Michigan last week acquitted a 14-year-old Port Huron middle school student charged with plotting to kill his classmates last spring.
The Holland Woods Middle School student had been charged with conspiracy to commit murder. The youth and three other students were arrested in May and charged with hatching a plan to steal guns, lure schoolmates to the gym, and open fire on them.
Earlier this month, two of the boys involved pleaded guilty as juveniles to lesser charges of conspiracy and were sentenced to four years' probation, said Assistant Prosecutor Mike Wendling. Charges against the other youth were dropped.
—Adrienne D. Coles
Pagan Teacher Suspended
A North Carolina English teacher who leads a pagan group says she has been suspended from her job because of her religious beliefs.
Shari Eicher claims she was suspended with pay Jan. 10 by the Scotland County district.
School officials did not return phone calls last week and have told reporters they would not comment on the case or confirm her suspension.
Ms. Eicher's husband, Richard, described her claims in a letter on a World Wide Web site called "Pagans in Action." Mr. Eicher wrote that the suspension came after a local newspaper called the 1,900-student Scotland High School in Laurinburg, N.C., to inform officials of her activities.
Ms. Eicher also helps run a Web site that promotes the coven and features photographs of other members performing rituals in the nude.
Ms. Eicher told a local newspaper that she did not discuss her religious beliefs in school.
—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Vol. 19, Issue 20, Page 4