News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
West Virginia Schools Chief Steps Down After Questions Raised About Expenses
West Virginia Superintendent Henry Marockie resigned under pressure last week after a local newspaper reported that he had made at least $1,200 in personal calls over the past four years at taxpayer expense.
The revelation came amid questions about Mr. Marockie's truthfulness and his use of expense money from private and public sources. The superintendent, who a year ago announced that he planned to resign this coming June, became the focus in January of investigations by federal, state, and local officials. No charges have been filed as a result of the investigations. ("Longtime W. Va. Chief Is Focus of Inquiries," Jan. 26, 2000.)
Mr. Marockie, who could not be reached for comment late last week, said in a statement that he wanted to spare the state board and education department from further "acrimony" Board members had initially backed him, but last week called his troubles a distraction.
Meanwhile, the candidate who was the board's first choice to fill the state's top education job withdrew from contention. Richard Laine, a former Illinois associate superintendent, is not qualified under West Virginia law to hold the post because he lacks a master's degree in educational administration.
Court Orders N.J. To Improve Preschool Program
The New Jersey Department of Education has been slow to implement a high-quality preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds in the state's poorest school districts, the state supreme court ruled last week.
But state officials, Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz wrote, have not acted in "bad faith," as lawyers for the 30 districts argued in a motion filed last summer. Last week's ruling was the latest in the state's long-running court fight over financing urban schools.
The court held that using existing child-care centers to provide the new program was acceptable. But it directed the state to issue "detailed, substantive" standards for the program by April 17; step up its efforts to staff classrooms with certified teachers; and comply with a teacher-to-student ratio of 1-to-15, instead of the ratio of 1-to-20 the state had set.
In response to the ruling, Commissioner of Education David C. Hespe called the court's time lines "very aggressive," but said the department was "committed to meeting them."
Minute of Silence Clears Last Legislative Hurdle in Va.
A bill mandating that school boards in Virginia implement a policy requiring students to be silent for one minute each morning won final legislative approval last week, passing the state's House of Delegates by a vote of 75-23.
The minute of silence is designed for "meditation, prayer, or reflection," and students would not be allowed to perform any other activities during that time.
Opponents of the bill, which was introduced in January by Republican Sen. Warren E. Barry, say the requirement infringes on students' religious freedom.
The bill applies to students in every grade and requires teachers to keep students quiet and seated for the minute.
A spokeswoman for Gov. James S. Gilmore III said the Republican was expected to sign the bill into law in the next few weeks.
Calif. Attorney General Addresses Bilingual Education
California school districts may not deny parents' requests for bilingual education for their children solely on the grounds that the districts do not offer such services, according to a recent legal opinion by state Attorney General Bill Lockyer. The opinion, requested by state schools Superintendent Delaine Easton, focuses on the waiver process set up under Proposition 227, a 1998 ballot initiative that replaced most bilingual education in the state with one-year English-immersion programs.
Under the new system, many schools have been denying parents' requests for waivers from immersion programs on the sole ground that they didn't offer an alternative, bilingual education proponents say.
Mr. Lockyer wrote in his Feb. 25 opinion that schools could no longer do that. He said schools must provide an alternative program, such as bilingual education, if 20 or more of a school's pupils at a given grade level receive a waiver.
—Mary Ann Zehr
Vol. 19, Issue 27, Page 30