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Published in Print: January 17, 2001, as News in Brief: A National Roundup

News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Police Kill Gunman on School Grounds

Police in Oxnard, Calif., shot and killed a 17-year-old gunman last week who had held a student hostage on a high school campus. Richard Gene Lopez was slain Jan. 10 after he held a loaded revolver to the head of a 17-year-old girl, said David Keith, a spokesman for the Oxnard Police Department.

Mr. Lopez, who attended an alternative high school and had a record of gun-related violations, did not know his victim at Hueneme High School, Mr. Keith said.

"He told the girl that he had family reasons, that he should kill himself, and that he wanted the police to do it," Mr. Keith said.

Before taking the girl hostage, the gunman fired three shots on the campus, one of which shattered a car window. The incident at the 2,600-student school occurred at lunchtime as several hundred students looked on.

The Oxnard campus, located about 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles, was closed immediately after the shooting and the following day. A spokeswoman for the 13,800-student district said officials were considering closing school Jan. 12 as well.

Mark Stricherz


Students Tested for TB

Some 90 students and staff members at a suburban Maryland high school were required to have tuberculosis tests last week after a 10th grader at the school was found to have contracted the disease.

The Montgomery Blair High School student is no longer contagious, but health authorities want all those who shared classes with him to have the test to make sure they were not infected earlier, according to Brian J. Porter, the spokesman for the 135,000-student Montgomery County, Md., district just outside Washington.

The tests were given at the school free of charge.

Public-health officials are trying to stem the spread of tuberculosis, a communicable disease primarily affecting the lungs, which has been on the rise in the United States for more than a decade. Many of the cases are found in people who have immigrated from poorer countries or in people with AIDS.

Montgomery Blair has a large enrollment of immigrant students. School officials did not identify the student who contracted the disease.

—Bess Keller


Boy Sues Over Team Allegiance

A Minnesota district is in a legal dispute with a parent who contends school officials repeatedly punished his 4th grader for rooting for the wrong football team.

The 2,500-student New Prague district is being sued in federal court by Roy Sonkowsky and his son, known as "Rocky," who claim that the boy was harassed by school officials for trying to express his support of the Green Bay Packers. Lawyers for the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, who represent the plaintiffs, say the actions of New Prague teachers and administrators violated the boy's free-speech rights.

The suit stems from a number of alleged incidents during the 1999-2000 school year, when New Prague Intermediate School took part in a statewide geography contest, sponsored in part by the Minnesota Vikings football team.

School officials made Rocky cover up his Packers jersey when they took a group picture to show their appreciation for the Vikings, excluded him from a holiday parade featuring a Vikings-themed float after he said he planned to wear Packers colors, and was kept from attending a party at the Vikings' practice facility, the complaint says.

But in court papers filed this month, the district maintains that Rocky was disciplined for "disrespectful behavior toward students and staff."

—Jeff Archer


Typo Undercuts Ad Campaign

The District of Columbia public school system's ad campaign to combat truancy has backfired.

The 77,000-student system spent $41,000 to put advertisements on the sides of 75 city buses urging students to attend school.

But the message, "D.C. Public Schools Wants You!!! Go To Class—It' A Blast!!!" became an embarrassment this month because the S needed for the contraction was omitted from the sign. The ad depicts children rushing in the door of an old-fashioned schoolhouse.

School officials blamed the printer for the typographical error, which slipped by district proofreaders.

Corrected signs were placed at no charge on the buses on Jan. 5, the day after the error was caught, according to Devonya Smith, a spokeswoman for the school district.

—Ann Bradley


L.A. Board Accused of Violation

A deputy district attorney contends that Los Angeles school board members broke the law when they met in closed session last month to take action on completing construction of a troubled high school.

During the Dec. 12 meeting, the board gave Superintendent Roy Romer permission to accept private bids to finish work on the Belmont Learning Center. The project, which is located on a former oil field, has been plagued by environmental hazards on the site. The school's cost has climbed to more than $200 million.

Susan Chasworth, a Los Angeles deputy district attorney, maintains that the board violated the state's Brown Act, which requires all public entities to discuss issues in open and public forums. The only exceptions to the law are personnel issues, pending litigation, and negotiations on real estate costs.

Hal Kwalwasser, the district's general counsel, said the superintendent did not need the board's approval to move forward with the bid process, but sought its input because of the significance of the issue. He added that the board's discussion about Belmont was intimately involved with pending litigation regarding the school and thus was within the law.

But Ms. Chasworth warned that if the board refused to discuss the Belmont decision in public, the district attorney's office would file a civil lawsuit seeking to halt the board's actions and to prevent its members from holding similar meetings in the future.

—Karla Scoon Reid


N.J. Superintendent Accused

The superintendent of the East Orange, N.J., district was put on unpaid leave last week after the school board voted to pursue administrative charges against him alleging that he used district employees for personal projects.

The board accused John Howard Jr. of using employees of the 11,000-student district to clean his house and move his daughter into her college dorm room during the school day.

Neither Mr. Howard nor his lawyer returned phone calls. But in local news accounts, Mr. Howard has denied the charges, saying they were trumped up by the board as a pretext to void his five-year contract.

The board recommended that the superintendent be fired from his $170,505-a-year job, according to Stephen Edelstein, the board's lawyer.

Mr. Howard had been on paid leave since September, when the charges were first alleged. He was placed on unpaid leave Jan. 10 after the board voted to send the matter to the state education department, which could fire him. In New Jersey, a school board cannot fire a tenured employee, Mr. Edelstein said.

—Lisa Fine


Drivers Charged in Fake Test

Two bus drivers in Albany, N.Y., have been charged with persuading a 5-year- old boy to urinate into a cup so one of them could pass a drug test.

Tanya Humbert and Kimberly Holsapple were charged Jan. 3 with a misdemeanor for "conspiring and enticing a child," said Detective James Miller, a spokesman for the Albany police. The two were fired from their jobs with Stock Transportation, which serves the 10,400-student district.

Ms. Holsapple admitted to using marijuana, Mr. Miller said, and hoped to foil her upcoming drug test by passing off the boy's urine as her own. The bus drivers were caught talking about the incident on the bus' taping system, Mr. Miller said.

Lonnie E. Palmer, Albany's superintendent, said district officials were considering toughening their anti-drug policy by retesting employees and examining what workers are allowed to bring to the drug-test site.

The bus drivers could not be reached for comment. Ms. Holsapple was quoted as telling a local reporter that the incident was "about as low as I've ever stooped."

Mark Stricherz

Vol. 20, Issue 18, Page 4

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