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Published in Print: February 28, 2001, as News in Brief: A National Roundup

News in Brief: A National Roundup

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U.S. Judge Dismisses Suit Over N.J. Survey

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by parents in Ridgewood, N.J., questioning a student survey administered by the district.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Politan issued his ruling Feb. 15 in a case filed on behalf of three parents by the Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Va., a nonprofit legal-advocacy organization. ("Parental Rights at Issue in Probe of Student Survey," Jan. 26, 2000.)

The lawsuit alleged that students in the district, about 15 miles from New York City, took the survey without the written consent of their parents in violation of the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment of 1994.

District officials, who could not be reached for comment last week, have said that the survey was voluntary and part of a communitywide effort to gauge young people's feelings. The 156- question survey, "Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors," was given in 1999 to about 2,000 7th through 12th graders.

Steven H. Aden, the chief litigation counsel for the Rutherford Institute, said the organization plans to appeal the ruling.

—Ann Bradley


Teacher-Test Pass Rate Goes Up

Passing rates on Massachusetts' mandatory teacher-licensure exam taken this year have skyrocketed, state officials reported last week, three years after would-be educators' poor performance on the test caused a national furor.

A record- high 62 percent of the 3,588 first-time test-takers passed all three sections of the test, the state department of education reported. Prospective teachers are required to show they are competent readers and writers and that they have mastered the subject matter they will teach before being awarded credentials.

The Massachusetts Educator Certification Tests and the state's teaching force came under fire when the test had its debut in 1998. Only 41 percent of prospective educators passed the first administration of the test, which is given several times a year. ("Massachusetts Educator Certification Tests," Dec. 9, 1998.)

Test-takers raised their scores on the latest test by improving their results on the subject-matter exams, the education department reported.

—Julie Blair


Pa. Teachers End Strike

Teachers in the Central Dauphin, Pa., district ended a three-week strike last week, after a state trial court judge ruled that they must be covered by the terms of their expired contract while negotiations continue on a new one.

During the walkout, leaders of the 11,000-student district outside Harrisburg threatened to unilaterally impose new work rules on the teachers, prompting the Central Dauphin Education Association to file a lawsuit seeking to block the action. The teachers' last contract expired more than six months ago.

Judge Lawrence F. Clark Jr. of the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas agreed on Feb. 21 that the terms of the previous work agreement must continue as negotiations go to nonbinding arbitration.

"The teachers want what is fair, and they want to be part of the process," said Jackie Goodwin, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association, to which the CDEA belongs.

District officials did not return calls for comment last week.

—Jeff Archer


Student Charged in Bomb Case

An 18- year-old student has been charged with 11 felony counts of weapons possession for allegedly carrying 18 homemade bombs and two loaded guns into his Elmira, N.Y., high school this month.

A tip from three other students led to the arrest of Jeremy Getman, a senior at Southside High School, by the school's law- enforcement officer. He was taken into custody Feb. 14 in the school cafeteria.

No one was hurt, and no weapon was discharged in the incident, although experts said at least some of the bombs were powerful enough to kill people.

After the arrest, the 1,100-student school was evacuated and then closed for the day while police combed the building. Eight other bombs were later recovered at Mr. Getman's home, authorities said.

Mr. Getman's lawyer, Chemung County Public Defender Richard Rich, said last week that he had not yet decided whether to pursue a psychiatric defense.

—Bess Keller


Embezzlement Suit Filed in N.J.

The Wyckoff, N.J., school system has filed a lawsuit accusing its business administrator and another man of embezzling more than $2.5 million from the district.

The suit was filed Feb. 6 against Richard H. Davis of Leonia, who oversaw the finances in the 2,300-student suburban district outside New York City. A local businessman and two local businesses also were named in the suit.

Both men are accused of creating fake businesses, billing the district, and then sending checks to the businesses but pocketing the money themselves.

No criminal charges have been filed. The local prosecutor and the Internal Revenue Service are investigating, said James Bender, the Wyckoff schools superintendent.

The district also has filed administrative charges of "conduct unbecoming" against Mr. Davis, challenging the employee's tenure in New Jersey public schools, Mr. Bender said.

Mr. Davis could not be reached for comment.

—Alan Richard


Ex-Student Wins Damages

A former high school student in Washington state who had been suspended for mocking an assistant principal on a Web site won $10,000 in damages last week.

Karl Beidler was awarded the compensation, plus lawyer's fees, by a Thurston County, Wash., superior court.

The 12,700-student North Thurston district suspended Mr. Beidler, a junior, in early 1999 for the school year after he admitted to parodying Dave Lehnis, who is now the principal at Timberline High School in Lacey, Wash.

On the Web site, which the student had created, Mr. Lehnis' face was superimposed into a Nazi book-burning scene and onto the body of cartoon character Marge Simpson, who was depicted having sex with her husband, Homer. Mr. Lehnis' image was also shown flirting with male students at the school, said Doug Honig, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Mr. Beidler.

The judge ruled last year that Mr. Beidler's Web site constituted free speech because it was operated off campus.

A spokesman for the district said it would not appeal the decision.

—Mark Stricherz


Superintendent Dies in Crash

The superintendent of the 150-student North Wamac School District 186 in Illinois was killed last week when the single-engine plane he was flying crashed into a tree.

Allan McCarthy, 55, had been taking flying lessons for about two years, district officials said. Also killed in the crash was his flight instructor, Steven Pickup, 32, of Centralia.

The school board of the one-school K-8 district, located 70 miles east of St. Louis, are scheduled to meet this week to decide on a successor to Mr. McCarthy.

—Ann Bradley


Doll Project Causes a Stir

Weeks after banning a 3rd grader's science fair exhibit, a Boulder, Colo., school will now use the experiment with black and white Barbie dolls to discuss racial issues.The experiment, which found that the school's 5th graders were much more likely to prefer a white Barbie doll than were adults, will be used to talk about "issues of race and diversity" among the school's 4th and 5th graders, said Janelle Albertson, a spokeswoman for the 26,900-student district.

Mesa Elementary School officials shelved the exhibit Feb. 1, saying that minority students could be offended by its conclusions.

David Thielen, whose daughter conducted the experiment, has called on school officials to apologize for barring it from the science fair, according to press accounts. Ms. Albertson said district officials had not apologized.

In the experiment, a black and a white Barbie doll wore different-colored dresses. Adults at Mr. Thielen's workplace preferred the doll with a lavender dress over one in a light-green gown, regardless of the doll's skin color. But 24 of 30 5th graders preferred the white doll, regardless of which color dress she wore.

—Mark Stricherz

Vol. 20, Issue 24, Page 4

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