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Published in Print: May 8, 2002, as News in Brief: A National Roundup

News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Los Angeles Bus Drivers, Contractor Settle Strike

More than 800 striking school bus drivers in Los Angeles ended their nearly monthlong walkout last week, after reaching an agreement with a contractor that provides modest pay raises but still leaves the issue of health-care benefits unresolved.

The strike, believed to be the first job action of its kind for school bus drivers in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 30 years, forced officials in the nation's second-largest district to cancel all field trips and sporting events and find other means to get 18,000 students to their schools. ("Laidlaw Bus Drivers in Los Angeles Go on Strike," April 10, 2002.)

The bus drivers, who work for Laidlaw Education Services, the district's largest transportation contractor, voted 339-58 on April 28 to end the 26-day walkout and approve a new three-year contract that gives them 3.5 percent annual raises and a week's paid vacation.

The bus drivers had sought a 5 percent pay increase. Union officials said that before the strike, Laidlaw bus drivers made from $8 to $15 an hour. Drivers hired directly by the district earn $13 to $24 an hour, they said.

The agreement does not address the drivers' health-care concerns. Union officials said that Laidlaw's health-care plan is too expensive, and that many drivers cannot afford to join. The union has proposed an alternative plan it says would cover every driver. An arbitrator will decide which plan to use.

"We are very pleased that the drivers and Laidlaw have resolved their dispute," said Roy Romer, the superintendent of the 737,000-student district. "We truly appreciate all the efforts made by all our staff, our contractors, and other school districts that put in extra hours to get our students to and from school during this difficult time."

—Scott W. Wright

Judge to Decide Whether Iowa Choir May Sing Hymn

A federal judge issued a temporary injunction last week barring an Iowa high school choir from rehearsing "The Lord's Prayer" in preparation for an upcoming graduation ceremony.

U.S. District Judge Charles R. Wolle said on April 29 that he would hold a trial May 6 in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and rule shortly afterward on whether the choir at Woodbine Community High School may perform the religious hymn at the May 19 commencement exercises.

The 530-student Woodbine district in western Iowa was sued April 1 by the parents of Donovan and Ruby Skarin, both sophomores and choir members who objected to singing "The Lord's Prayer" in rehearsal and at graduation.

The twin students do not believe in God and do not think they should be forced to sing the hymn at a public school, said Ben Stone, the executive director of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, which is backing the suit.

"The government has no business forcing kids to sing such a prayer," he said.

The suit contends that inclusion of the hymn in the graduation ceremonies violates the First Amendment's ban on a government establishment of religion.

School administrators refused a request from the Skarin family to drop "The Lord's Prayer" from this year's ceremony, and 70 of 74 members of the choir signed a petition urging the district to defend the inclusion of the song, Mr. Stone said.

An aide to Woodbine Superintendent Terry L. Hazard said the district was not making any public comments about the case.

—Mark Walsh

Calif. Vice Principal on Leave For Student-Underwear Check

A California high school administrator was placed on leave last week after she allegedly lifted girls' skirts in front of male students and adults to make sure they were not wearing thong underwear at a school dance.

A spokesman for the 32,500-student Poway Unified School District in northern San Diego County said district officials were investigating allegations by students and parents that Rita Wilson, a vice principal of Rancho Bernardo High School, and several teachers conducted an aggressive underwear screening at the April 26 dance.

Some parents have threatened to file complaints with the American Civil Liberties Union if the district fails to act quickly.

"As a parent myself, I certainly understand the concern these allegations have raised," said Don Phillips, the superintendent of the Poway district. "The district provides extensive training and discussion about proper administrative procedures and respect for students' rights and well-being. If these allegations prove to be true, [Ms. Wilson's] actions were clearly outside our school district's policies."

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Alaska Student Challenges Suspension for Display of Banner

The Alaska office of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the Juneau school board and a high school principal over the suspension of a student who displayed a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner during a school event earlier this year.

ACLU officials say the suspension of Joseph Frederick, a senior at Juneau Douglas High School, violates the student's free-speech rights.

Mr. Frederick held up the sign during an Olympic Torch relay on Jan. 24, but contends he was not on school property at the time.

School officials accused the ACLU of distorting the facts. While Mr. Frederick may not have been on school property, he was in the middle of a school activity, said Ann Gifford, the general counsel for the 5,400-student Juneau school district.

Superintendent Gary M. Bader said that Mr. Frederick was suspended for other reasons than simply displaying the sign, but he declined to elaborate.

"There's more to this case than has been published," he said. "Some people have come to conclusions without knowing the facts."

Mr. Frederick held up the sign to protest school regulations he views as too restrictive—not to make any sort of pro-drug statement, said Jennifer Rudinger, the executive director the ACLU's Alaska office.

"He is a very strong person," she said, "with a strong libertarian streak in him."

—Sean Cavanagh

Five Districts Named Finalists In Urban Education Competition

Five school districts have been chosen as finalists in a Los Angeles foundation's competition for a $500,000 prize for improvement in urban education.

The districts that will compete for the Broad Foundation's Prize for Urban Education are the Atlanta Public Schools; the Boston Public Schools; the Houston Independent School District; the Long Beach Unified School District, south of Los Angeles; and the Garden Grove Unified School District in Orange County, Calif.

Eli Broad, the founder of the philanthropy, called the five districts "models for the nation" because of their "leadership and innovation in raising student achievement and closing the achievement gap."

The finalists were chosen from a list of more than 100 districts by a panel of education experts.

Teams of other experts will visit the five school districts this month to gather information and interview district personnel, foundation officials said.

A selection jury of leaders in government, business, and philanthropy will determine the winner this summer.

The foundation announced the establishment of the award in March, saying it wanted to create additional incentives and models for urban school improvement. ("Broad: New Award to Be 'Nobel' For Education," March 20, 2002.)

—Catherine Gewertz

School Guards' 'Quick Draw' Leads to Fatal Shooting

An Orleans Parish, La., school security officer shot and killed a fellow officer late last month while they were serving on security duty for a high school dance.

The two officers were stationed outside Marion Abramson Senior High School's gymnasium in New Orleans on April 26 when they started to play cowboy-style "quick draw" with their weapons, authorities said.

At about 10 p.m., as Toran Joseph pointed his Ruger 9mm handgun at Richard Antoine, Mr. Antoine apparently kicked it. The gun discharged and fatally wounded Mr. Antoine in the chest. Mr. Antoine, who had worked as a security officer for the 80,000-student system for 12 years, was 54.

Mr. Joseph, 38, was charged with negligent homicide and was suspended without pay until the school district concludes an investigation. Mr. Joseph, who worked for the district for seven years, is one of 208 Orleans Parish school security officers.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Where, Oh Where, Has That Time Capsule Gone?

The time had finally come to dig up a time capsule filled with memories buried by the class of 1977 at Alamogordo High School in New Mexico.

The problem: A quarter-century later, no one can remember where it is.

"We don't know," said Principal John Jenkins. "We have contacted members of the class to see if someone can remember."

Mr. Jenkins said he fears that during a 1985 expansion of the 2,000-student school, a cement sidewalk was placed over the spot where some believe the time capsule was buried.

Regardless of whether school officials can find the time capsule, administrators said, the issue has provided a lesson that the current senior class won't forget.

They plan to make a time capsule of their own, Mr Jenkins said. This time, though, the class will document the location.

—Lisa Fine

Vol. 21, Issue 34, Page 4

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