News in Brief: A National Roundup
Ind. Supreme Court Upholds District Drug Testing
The Indiana Supreme Court last week upheld a school district's policy of random drug testing of students involved in athletics and other extracurricular activities.
The 1,700-student Northwestern school corporation near Kokomo, Ind., implemented the policy in 1999 in part because three students or recent graduates of Northwestern High School have died in drug-related incidents since 1987.
Two students challenged the policy as a violation of the state constitution's clause barring unreasonable searches and seizures.
The state supreme court ruled 3-2 on March 5 in favor of the Northwestern policy. "Deterring drug abuse by children in school is an important and legitimate concern for our schools," the majority opinion said.
The dissenting justices said random testing of students without suspicion failed to pass constitutional muster.
Student drug testing in Indiana has already passed muster in federal court. Meanwhile, on March 19, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up a case involving an Oklahoma district's policy of drug-testing all students engaged in competitive activities. ("Testing the Limits of School Drug Tests," this issue.)
Piper, Kan., Board Accused Of Open-Meetings Breach
A Kansas district attorney has charged seven school board members with making official decisions behind closed doors on two occasions in a student-plagiarism matter that has drawn national attention.
The school board of the 1,300-student Piper Unified School District violated the state's open-meetings act when its members discussed the definition of plagiarism, among other matters, last December during a meeting recess, District Attorney Nick A. Tomasic alleged in court documents filed Feb. 28. The law states that such business must be conducted in a public venue.
The plagiarism issue arose when high school biology teacher Christine Pelton failed 28 sophomores two months ago after she determined that they had plagiarized on projects worth half their grades. The school board failed to back the teacher when community members complained, and the teacher subsequently quit her job.
If the school board members are found to have violated the open-meetings law, they could be subject to $17,500 in fines, court documents state.
The school board's lawyer, Louis Clothier, denied any wrongdoing, but added that he would review the district attorney's findings.
Denver Schools Strengthen Sex-Incident Reporting
A string of controversies over sex-related incidents in and around Denver's public schools has school officials scrambling to assure parents their children are safe and the district is strengthening its reporting procedures.
Superintendent Jerry Wartgow sent a letter to parents last week after a man allegedly kidnapped two young sisters who were walking home from school. Police are investigating whether the girls, who are 5 and 8 years old, were sexually assaulted in the Feb. 26 incident.
Days earlier, the Denver Post criticized the district for keeping a high school teacher on staff for seven years after allegations of sexual abuse got him kicked out of a local mentoring program.
The episodes came as officials of the 73,000-student Denver district were already meeting with school administrators to try to clarify guidelines for reporting sex- related incidents in and around school campuses. A state legislator also had expressed interest in setting such guidelines into law.
Those efforts were triggered by two incidents earlier this school year in which educators were apparently confused over proper procedures for reporting possible sex-related crimes. In one case last October, a middle school principal called the police— but not district officials—after four boys threatened a girl with a knife and fondled her.
As a result of the principal's failure to notify the school system, the victim did not get required counseling services until months later, according to Mark H. Stevens, a spokesman for the district.
Conn. Elementary School To Keep North Korean Flag
The North Korean flag will remain on display in a New Britain, Conn., elementary school despite protests from local veterans' groups.
The school board of the 10,500-student New Britain district voted 8-2 on March 4 against removing the flag from the Diloreto Magnet School. The flag is one of about 70 national flags hanging in the 600-student elementary school, which has an international theme.
Controversy erupted last month when James Sanders Sr., a school board member and Korean War veteran, saw the flag hanging in the school cafeteria and met with local veterans' groups to rally support for its removal. ("School's Display of N. Korean Flag Raises Veterans' Ire," March 6, 2002.)
Mr. Sanders said the flag's presence at the school was offensive, especially since President Bush included the Communist country in what he called an "axis of evil."
At a recent school board committee meeting, parents of students who attend the elementary school advocated keeping the flag in the cafeteria because, they said, it is a good teaching tool.
Los Angeles Schools Set To Receive Defibrillators
Acting at the urging of the American Heart Association, the Los Angeles Unified School District will distribute heart defibrillators to high schools and other district facilities with large concentrations of students and adults.
The 723,000-student district has purchased 60 of the devices, and school nurses have already been trained to operate the units, which monitor heart rhythms and send a shock to the heart if necessary. Other staff members, such as coaches and administrators, will also be trained to use the equipment, said Pete Anderson, the director of the district's office of emergency services.
The Heart Association had encouraged officials to distribute the laptop-size devices after a series of cardiac deaths on district campuses.
Mr. Anderson said that adult high schools, school board offices, and eventually middle schools also would receive the devices.
Safety Concerns in Alaska Prompt Rural School Closing
A small Alaska school was closed late last month because district officials were concerned about the safety of its teachers.
On Feb. 27, Charles Mason, the chief executive officer of the 2,200-student Northwest Arctic Borough School District, closed McQueen School in Kivalina, which enrolls about 130 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
A week earlier, a student allegedly assaulted a teacher, and state troopers were asked to investigate. The incident was the latest in which teachers had complained of being threatened by students. Five teachers— about half the instructional staff—resigned last month because of their safety concerns.
Shirley J. Holloway, the state education commissioner, is urging the district to restore order to the school and resume classes. She has offered the state's help in recruiting new teachers and devising a plan to resolve the school's safety issues.
—Karla Scoon Reid
Vol. 21, Issue 26, Page 4