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Published in Print: June 4, 2003, as News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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Curb on Legal Immunity Affects Some Districts

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last week that states do not have immunity from lawsuits brought by their employees under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 has implications for school districts in a handful of states.

In its 6-3 decision in Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs (Case No. 01-1368), the court departed from its recent trend of upholding state immunity under the 11th Amendment from lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The ruling has particular importance to K-12 education in three states where school districts have been ruled to be arms of the state for purposes of 11th Amendment immunity. Those states are California, Maryland, and North Carolina. Districts in other states are generally not covered by the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which grants states immunity from lawsuits for damages unless they consent to such suits.

The family-leave law requires employers to grant eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to deal with health problems of a spouse, child, or parent.

In his May 27 opinion for the majority, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said Congress was justified in abrogating states' 11th Amendment immunity with the statute because federal lawmakers had found that the states had a "record of unconstitutional participation in, and fostering of, gender-based discrimination in the administration of leave benefits."

Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas dissented.

—Mark Walsh

Paige Names Adviser For Black-College Issues

A retired U.S. Army officer, whose subsequent civilian tours of duty have included a college campus and a state education agency, has been named a top adviser to the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Wilbert Bryant was appointed on May 21 as the designated counselor to Secretary of Education Rod Paige for the panel, which under law works to strengthen the ability of HBCUs to provide a high-quality education to minority and disadvantaged students. Mr. Bryant, 62, currently serves as a deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Education's office of postsecondary and higher education.

Wilbert Bryant

The new appointee will replace Leonard Spearman. Mr. Spearman has been appointed as a special assistant to Mr. Paige and will advise him on several issues, the department said in a statement.

Mr. Bryant retired from the Army in 1990 with the rank of colonel. He later served as the vice president for student affairs at Virginia Union University, in Richmond, Va., and as Virginia's education secretary.

Earlier this year, the work of the HBCU panel sparked discord, when one of the panel's members, Tuskegee University President Benjamin J. Payton, accused the department of attempting to stall the public release of a report on HBCUs because officials in the agency did not approve of its recommendations. Department officials denied any such motives, saying the report had not met the requirements of being presented at an official public meeting. ("A Question of Timing," Federal File, Jan. 15, 2003.)

—Sean Cavanagh

Report Faults Oversight Of Teacher-Quality Rules

A report charges that the Bush administration has failed to ensure that new federal requirements on teacher quality are being adequately met by states and school districts.

"The Bush administration ... [is] selectively following through on the promises made under the No Child Left Behind Act [of 2001]," said the May report by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a Washington-based advocacy group known as ACORN.

For example, the federal law requires that states and districts "prepare and disseminate" report cards providing information on the qualifications of teachers overall. Of 23 states and the District of Columbia surveyed by ACORN in early May, only nine had the required teacher-quality information on their state report cards, the group found.

Of 64 school districts surveyed, only 13 had sent any teacher-quality data to all parents; most of the districts had some but not all of the required information on their Web sites or their states' Web sites, the study found.

Asked about the situation, Susan M. Aspey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said last month: "We expect this to be fully implemented by the beginning of the next school year." She confirmed, however, that the law says the requirement on providing teacher-qualification information was supposed to take effect this school year.

"States have been working very hard to get the data- management systems in place so they can meet the reporting requirements," Ms. Aspey said.

—Erik W. Robelen

Grants Offer Mentoring For Inmates' Children

The Department of Health and Human Services will award grants totaling $10 million to organizations that will train volunteers to mentor children of incarcerated parents. The grants are part of a plan from President Bush for helping disadvantaged youths by giving them positive adult role models.

Between 1991 and 1999, the number of children with a parent in federal or state prison more than doubled, from 900,000 to 2 million. Studies show that such children are seven times more likely to end up in prison than children whose parents have not been incarcerated.

Community and faith-based organizations, prison systems, and tribal, state and local governments will be eligible to receive the HHS grants. Mentors will be required to make at least a one-year commitment to the program and meet with their designated youngsters at least once a week.

Applications will be accepted until July 15. More information is available at www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/fysb.

—Linda Jacobson

Vol. 22, Issue 39, Page 22

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