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Published in Print: May 16, 2001, as News in Brief: A National Roundup

News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Ex-Principal Charged With Abducting Girl

The former principal of a Baptist school has been charged with kidnapping and engaging in sexual activities with one of the school's 6th grade students.

Federal agents arrested William A. Beith, 28, of Burns Harbor, Ind., on May 8 in Las Vegas. He and the girl had avoided capture for seven days, ever since they disappeared from their homes in northwestern Indiana.

Mr. Beith was charged with five felonies, including kidnapping, sexual assault of a minor, and transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes, according to Daron W. Borst, a special agent for the FBI in Las Vegas.

Mr. Beith was fired from his job as principal of the Liberty Baptist Academy in Lake Station, Ind., shortly after he disappeared with the girl, according to a school employee, who asked not to be named.

—David J. Hoff

Fla. Land Buys Scrutinized

Florida legislators pledged to keep tighter reins on spending on capital projects in the Miami-Dade County schools after a recent audit revealed that the district overpaid as much as $7 million for land over the past three years.

Under an agreement lawmakers signed into law as a part of a budget package this month, a state-appointed oversight board will have the ultimate authority to accept or reject the district's land purchases. In addition, the state will assign two full-time auditors to examine all areas of spending in the 350,000-student school district, said state Sen. Donald C. Sullivan, who serves on the Senate's education committee.

"Over the past year, there have been multiple times where they've paid more than the appraised value for land, bought parcels of land they didn't need, or completed projects that weren't on their priority list," said Mr. Sullivan. "It was time to do something about it."

District officials, for their part, appear to accept the new state involvement. Superintendent Roger C. Cuevas told The Miami Herald on May 1 that he hopes the oversight committee "enhances the process that the board and the administration have already taken to ensure that acquiring land is more efficient."

—Jessica L. Sandham

Miss. Judge Balks at Deal

A federal judge in Mississippi has expressed reservations about approving a proposed settlement in a 26-year-old higher education desegregation case against the state.

The proposed settlement would require the Mississippi legislature to pay $246 million over 17 years to three historically black universities for new academic programs. ("Mississippi Reaches Accord in Higher Education Desegregation Case," May 2, 2001.)

In his May 8 opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Neal B. Biggers wrote that he was concerned that the agreement "acknowledges only in a cursory fashion the heart of this case, desegregation."

The proposed settlement substitutes a more expensive, court-administered plan for a court-ordered plan instituted in 1995, he added. The judge said he had reservations about the cost of the settlement.

He set a hearing for Sept. 4 to consider the agreement. It could still be approved in full or with suggested changes.

—Vanessa Dea

Security Breach To Cost District

The Montgomery County, Md., schools will have to pay the state as much as $600,000 for a new test because of a breach in security.

Seven staff members at Silver Spring International Middle School in Silver Spring were removed last week from their jobs following a probe into test-security violations.

The 135,000-student district intends to take disciplinary action against a total of 11 staff members at the school in the wake of irregularities in the administration of the 6th grade mathematics portion of the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills.

The investigation found that the math-team leader at the school copied pages of the test booklet and distributed them to eight teachers, who then shared them with students, according to Teresa M. Flak, a community superintendent.

Because the tests are given statewide, the 6th grade math portion now must be written at a cost of about $600,000, according to state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

—Ann Bradley

Colo. Gun Supplier Settles

The young woman who helped Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold buy weapons they used in the 1999 attack on Columbine High School in Colorado has reached a settlement with the victims' families.

Robyn Anderson, who was 18 at the time, attended a gun show with the underage students and used her identification so they could buy a rifle and two shotguns.

Ms. Anderson agreed to pay an undisclosed amount of money into a settlement fund to be distributed to about three dozen families, according to Stephen Wahlberg, a lawyer for several of the victims' families.

—Ann Bradley

Student's Appeal Denied

The Oregon Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of a student who faces removal from office as student-body president for showing up at school with marijuana.

In practical terms, the 2,800-student Phoenix-Talent district may run out of time to remove Keanon Ferguson from his leadership post at Phoenix High School. Mr. Ferguson's father could seek a rehearing by the state supreme court, which would not likely be granted but would delay the issuance of a final judgment in the case past the June 8 graduation ceremonies, said Timothy C. Gerking, a lawyer for the district.

The district sought to remove the senior from his position after he was found on school grounds last spring with a quarter-ounce of marijuana and a pipe. The younger Mr. Ferguson and his father filed a lawsuit in state court that argued the district was not applying its disciplinary rules consistently and that the drug violation merited only a four-week suspension from office.

A state appeals court ruled in the district's favor in February. The state supreme court on May 2 declined to review that ruling.

—Mark Walsh

Vol. 20, Issue 36, Page 4

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