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Published in Print: September 3, 2003, as News in Brief: A Washington's Roundup

News in Brief:A Washington's Roundup

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E.D. Releases Guidance About Charter Schools

If employees of charter schools or any outside management companies that run them serve on the schools' boards of directors, they must avoid any "real or apparent conflict of interest" if the school receives money from the Department of Education's charter school program, under new guidelines released late last month.

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The guidelines are available from the U.S. Department of Education. (Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)

If employees of charter schools or any outside management companies that run them serve on the schools' boards of directors, they must avoid any "real or apparent conflict of interest" if the school receives money from the Department of Education's charter school program, under new guidelines released late last month.

Prohibited conflicts of interest and changes wrought in the nine-year-old, $198.7 million grant program by the No Child Left Behind Act are among the new topics covered in the nonregulatory guidance.

The guidance also tackles such topics as what role churches and other religious organizations can play in charter schools; how to conduct admissions lotteries; and how much grant money states can keep for overhead.

Dean Kern, the program's director, said the new conflict-of-interest section was prompted in part by concerns about employees of education management companies serving on the boards of charter schools with which the companies have contracts.

—Caroline Hendrie

Ex-Department Employee Sentenced in Theft Scheme

A former Department of Education employee has been sentenced to 41/2 years in prison for her role in a scheme to bilk the department of more than $1 million in computers and telecommunications equipment.

Elizabeth C. Mellen, a former telecommunications specialist in the department, pleaded guilty last year to charges of theft and conspiracy in connection with a scheme that involved six members of her family and others. She was sentenced Aug. 5 by U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of Washington.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Ms. Mellen and others conspired with representatives of a telecommunications contractor at the department to order computers, telephones, digital cameras, and other goods at government expense for their personal use. ("Seven More Sign Guilty Pleas in Ed. Agency Fraud Case," Feb. 6, 2002.)

Court documents said Ms. Mellen had employees of Bell Atlantic, now known as Verizon Communications Inc., perform work at her relatives' homes, then submit bills for false overtime to the Education Department. Ms. Mellen's lawyer, William Brennan, could not be reached for comment.

—Sean Cavanagh

Rights Office Issues Letter On Campus Free Speech

The Department of Education's office for civil rights has issued a letter to college administrators stating that its anti-discrimination policies are not meant to restrict free speech on campus, but to shield students from acts that could be deemed offensive.

Gerald A. Reynolds, the assistant secretary for civil rights, issued the letter July 28 in response to requests for clarification on free-speech issues, department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said.

Mr. Reynolds wrote that while some campus officials have interpreted OCR anti-harassment policies as barring all offensive speech pertaining to race, sex, and disability, "OCR's regulations are not intended to restrict the exercise of any expressive activities protected under the U.S. Constitution."

Greg C. Lukianoff, a spokesman for the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, hailed the letter as "a new day" in helping to rid campuses of stringent anti-harassment policies that have resulted in "speech codes."

—Sean Cavanagh

Vol. 23, Issue 1, Page 35

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