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Published in Print: November 7, 2001, as News in Brief: A National Roundup

News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Md. Students, Staff Members Tested For Anthrax Bacteria

Eleven students and five staff members from the Montgomery County, Md., public schools have been tested to determine if they were exposed to anthrax bacteria at the Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Silver Spring, Md. Anthrax spores were found in the mailroom of the hospital late last month.

The students are believed to be the first in the nation to be tested for anthrax exposure during the recent spate of such incidents. They and the staff members worked at the hospital as part of a district program that helps students move from special education to work environments, said Brian J. Porter, a spokesman for the 136,000-student district.

The students and the staff members were given a course of antibiotics as they await the test results.

—Michelle Galley

Commission on Teaching Gets New Executive Director

The National Commission on Teaching & America's Future last week announced that it had chosen a new executive director to replace founder Linda Darling- Hammond.

Tom Carroll, who served as the founding director of a technology- grants program for teachers at the U.S. Department of Education, will lead the panel. He also served as the director of technology planning and evaluation at the Schools and Libraries Corp., the agency that, at the time, awarded discounts to schools for telecommunications projects.

"Tom Carroll's extensive background in designing and implementing education programs and policies on a national scale will enable him to spur NCTAF's growth as a lead agent of change and reform," Ms. Darling-Hammond said.

Mr. Carroll has signed on with the blue-ribbon commission halfway into its 10-year effort to improve the nation's teaching force. Ms. Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University, will now serve as the commission's vice chairwoman and senior adviser.

—Julie Blair

El Cajon, Calif., School Shooter Commits Suicide in Jail Cell

An 18-year-old who shot five people at a California high school in March committed suicide in his jail cell last week.

Jason Anthony Hoffman hanged himself by looping strips of bed sheet around the grillwork of an air vent on the wall of his cell, according to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. He was found dead about 1 a.m. during a routine bed check.

The student was facing 27 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to one count of attempted murder and five counts of assault with a deadly weapon.

On March 22, Mr. Hoffman took a 12-gauge shotgun to Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, Calif. He shot at and missed a vice principal, and wounded three students and two teachers, before being shot in the jaw by a school police officer.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Newton, Mass., Parents Question Charges Against Driver in Fatal Crash

Parents of four Newton, Mass., middle school students who died in a bus accident in Canada are upset with what they believe are too lenient charges filed against the driver.

Hin Chi Kan was booked for undue care and attention in New Brunswick, Canada, for his role in the April 27 crash. Because Mr. Kan was charged in provincial court, he cannot be extradited or forced to appear in an American court, said Staff Sgt. Dave Brown of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The parents of the students who died filed a civil suit in Massachusetts against Mr. Kan and the two bus companies involved in the five- day trip, according to the Boston Globe.

Mr. Brown could not say why Mr. Kan was booked on what the parents view as a relatively lenient charge. If found guilty in provincial criminal court, he faces a fine of $250 to $10,000 Canadian and up to six months in jail, Sgt. Brown said.

The four Oak Hill Middle School students died when the bus missed an exit ramp around 5 a.m. and flipped over. ("Four Killed in Bus Crash," News in Brief, May 9, 2001.)

Mr. Kan is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 22.

—Mark Stricherz

California District Scraps Proposal For Families to Buy $2,000 Laptops

School officials in Palo Alto, Calif., have suspended a laptop-computer project for middle school students after parents complained that the computers' $2,000 price tag wasn't affordable for many families.

Mary Scigliano, the director of education technology and information services for the Palo Alto school district, said last week that a committee of parents, teachers, and staff members will take a closer look at the program, which is part of a larger technology initiative for the district's three middle schools.

Buying an Apple iBook laptop computer is optional, and each school will have 45 laptops available for classroom use, she stressed.

About 30 percent of parents returned forms saying they would not buy a laptop for their children, while 30 percent said they would purchase one. The rest wanted more information before deciding.

Parent Vanessa Drebin said she and others wonder whether their children will suffer academically if they don't buy the iBooks. "Only the wealthy can afford it," she said. "It didn't seem fair to me."

In addition to the computer's price tag, parents questioned whether the computers are merely a fad and whether 6th graders can properly care for an expensive machine

—Rhea R. Borja

Indianapolis Students Sue To Form Gay-Straight Club

A group of gay and heterosexual students at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis has filed a lawsuit against the school because officials would not let them form a club called the Gay/Straight Alliance.

School officials had asked the students to change the name of the club to something like the Diversity Club and to talk about a broader range of topics than just gay issues, said Sean Lemieux, a spokesman for the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, which filed the suit on behalf of the students.

Thomas Wheeler, a lawyer for the school, said that officials had suggested that the club include other groups of students, such as Muslims and Asians, that may feel ostracized, so that they could discuss those issues together.

He said school administrators worried that if only homosexual students met, the club would put "a target on their backs."

—Michelle Galley

Admissions Plans Approved For Competitive S.F. Schools

The San Francisco school board has approved plans for the city's two competitive-entry schools that aim to increase diversity without using race as a consideration in admissions.

The 62,000-student San Francisco school district is under a federal court order to desegregate its schools, but has also been ordered not to use race in admissions decisions.

The new plan for the highly academic 2,500-student Lowell High School reserves some slots for students from schools that are underrepresented in the school's current enrollment. Those schools "have concentrations of students with certain ethnic backgrounds, but more important, they have more students who are poor," explained Jill Wynns, the president of the school board.

The plan for the 400- student School for the Arts intends to give students who aren't already accomplished in the arts, but have artistic potential, the chance to attend the school by placing less emphasis on auditions. The change is based on the assumption that poor children and youths have less opportunity to take private lessons, Ms. Wynns said.

The two plans were approved Oct. 23 in a 5-1 vote. One board member was absent.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Reported Crimes in Schools Drop Slightly, Report Says

The proportion of students who reported being victims of crime at school dropped from 10 percent to 8 percent between 1995 and 1999, according to a new federal report.

There was also a slight drop, from 9 percent to 5 percent, in the number of students ages 12 through 18 who reported avoiding one or more places at school for their own safety. And the number of students reporting the presence of street gangs in their schools fell from 29 percent to 17 percent.

However, the study also found that some types of crime held steady through the 1990s. Between 1993 and 1999, for instance, the percentage of students in grades 9 through 12 who were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property held steady at about 8 percent.

The report, "Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2001," is the fourth edition in an annual series put out by the U.S. Justice and Education departments. A copy is available at stract/iscs01.htm.

Darcia Harris Bowman

800-Student Calif. District To Sell Superintendent's $80,000 BMW

In a unanimous decision last week, the four trustees of the Orchard, Calif., school district voted to sell a $79,856 BMW 740IL that the district had bought as a reward for its superintendent.

The car, purchased last November for Superintendent Terry Jones' use, had drawn criticism from parents and teachers in the 800-student district, located in northern San Jose.

Thirty percent of the students in the district live in poverty, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

The actual sale of the luxury car is expected to take at least several weeks because of paperwork, said Jana Drazich, the district's chief business officer.

The district's annual budget is about $6 million, Ms. Drazich said. 

—Tom Kim

Vol. 21, Issue 10, Page 4

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