News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Vt. To Punish Bomb Scares by Taking Driver's Licenses
Hoping to crack down on the increasing number of people who call in phony bomb threats to schools, the Vermont legislature has approved a bill that would suspend the driver's license of anyone convicted of committing such a hoax.
The provision was added to a school violence bill that the legislature passed earlier this month and Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, signed last week. Other states have enacted or considered similar laws in recent years, including North Carolina and Wisconsin. ("States Seek To Defuse School Bomb Scares," May 10, 2000.)
Under the plan, an offender's driver's license would be suspended for 180 days for a first offense and two years for a second offense. If offenders are too young to drive, they could not obtain a license for 180 days or two years from the date they would otherwise qualify for one.
Under current law, people found guilty of making bomb threats at schools can be sentenced to up to two years in prison or receive a $5,000 fine for a first offense, or prison time up to five years and a $10,000 fine for a second offense.
Since the April 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, some Vermont schools have received numerous bomb threats. In one district, the 7,100-student Windham Northeast Supervisory District, a high school and middle school together have received more than a dozen threats in the past year.
—Joetta L. Sack
Ariz. Court Upholds Unruly Student
The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that authorities should not have brought criminal charges against a 15-year-old middle school student for disrupting a class and then kicking over a chair when confronted by his principal.
The May 19 decision overturned an earlier ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals and a Maricopa County Superior Court commissioner's finding that the student intended to disturb the peace and could therefore face a charge of disorderly conduct in juvenile court.
The Supreme Court, however, found no evidence that the youth's conduct met the threshold required for such a charge.
"We do not condone the type of behavior in question, but must keep in mind the difference between civil and criminal conduct," Justice Stanley G. Feldman wrote. "Our laws do not make criminals out of adults or juveniles just because they act offensively or rudely or lack respect and control."
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Frederick J. Martone said because the principal thought she needed police during the 1997 incident, there was evidence of serious disruption.
—Darcia Harris Bowman
Pro-Standards Group Forms in N.J.
A coalition of representatives from New Jersey's business, education, and nonprofit sectors launched a series of town meetings last week to bolster statewide support for higher academic standards and assessments for the state's public schools.
About 100 teachers, parents, and local officials turned out for the first meeting of the 50-member alliance, which is called New Jersey United for Higher School Standards, on May 23 in Millburn. The coalition plans to hold 40 town meetings, one in each legislative district, across the Garden State through next year.
While officials in many states face opposition to state accountability measures that stress standards and tests, that's not "a driving concern" for the new coalition, said Michael Schneider, a spokesman for the group. "We want to hold a forum for parents to express their concerns on all issues of education," he said. "We don't want to shy away from a debate."
In coming weeks, the group will also go online with a site on the World Wide Web.
The group is co-chaired by: Arthur F. Ryan, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Prudential Insurance Co. of America; Alfred J. Cade, the chairman of the state commission on higher education; and Robert A. Bonazzi, the chairman of Leadership for Educational Excellence, an umbrella organization of education groups, including the state PTA.
—Robert C. Johnston
N.Y. Charters Sue Over State Tests
Two New York City charter schools have asked a judge to annul a decision by the state education commissioner to require their students, starting this year, to pass state tests in order to graduate.
The two schools, along with about 40 of the state's other nontraditional high schools, had sought to have their students exempted from a series of tests the state is currently phasing in. The charter schools use individually tailored projects to assess students' knowledge, as do the other nontraditional schools, known in New York as alternative schools.
Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills partially rejected the alternative schools' waiver request in January, by requiring seniors in those schools to pass a state English exam in order to graduate this spring. But he did exempt next year's senior class in those schools from a mathematics exam that will become a state graduation requirement starting in 2001—with the exception of the two charter schools.
As a result, those schools—International Charter High School and Middle College High School, both at La Guardia Community College in Queens—sued Mr. Mills on May 19 in state court in Albany.
The judge handling the case has promised a decision by June 9 because the English exams will be given for the last time this year on June 16 and June 20.
Vol. 19, Issue 38, Page 19