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Published in Print: July 14, 2004, as News in Brief: A National Roundup

News in Brief: A National Roundup

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S.F. Schools Win Millions In Dispute Over Contract

The San Francisco public schools have won a $43.1 million settlement from a North Carolina-based company that had a contract with the district to help it save energy.

The district sued Strategic Resource Solutions in November 2001 for breach of contract and false claims. The next year, the company pleaded guilty to two counts of grand theft for stealing money from the 60,000-student district. Criminal charges against individuals are pending in that case.

The district will spend $25 million of the settlement on facilities-related projects, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said on June 30 in announcing the deal.

—Ann Bradley


Some N.Y.C. 3rd Graders Gain Promotion on Appeal

Fourteen percent of the New York City 3rd graders who faced retention because they scored poorly on a test will be promoted to 4th grade, officials have announced.

Under the city’s new promotion policy for 3rd graders, teachers and administrators automatically reviewed the classwork of pupils who scored at the lowest of four levels on citywide reading or mathematics tests in April to see if their overall performance warranted moving them to the next grade. ("Debate Over Retaining 3rd Graders Roils N.Y.C., June 16, 2004.)

Those reviews enabled 1,480 children to qualify for promotion, district officials said in a press release issued June 24. More than 9,000 still are being recommended for a special summer school program. If they don’t attend, or fail the test a second time after attending, they will repeat 3rd grade.

When city officials announced the test results in June, they said 11,700 children scored at the lowest level on one or both tests. That number has since been revised to 10,521, largely by excluding from the count recently identified special education students and English-language learners who are not subject to the policy.

Of the students who scored at the lowest level on the test, 86 percent (9,041) still face retention, and 14 percent (1,480) are being promoted.

Parents may appeal the decisions during the summer.

—Catherine Gewertz


Lawsuits Settled Over Students ‘Pushed Out’ of City’s Schools

A class action alleging that struggling students were illegally "pushed out" of a Brooklyn high school has been settled, ending the last of three cases filed over allegedly improper school discharges in New York City.

The June 17 settlement ended a lawsuit filed on behalf of students who claimed that administrators at Bushwick High School forced them to leave school before graduation. The agreement gives such students the right to return, and sets up procedures by which staff members, students, and parents are informed of students’ rights to stay in school.

Elisa Hyman, the deputy director of Advocates For Children of New York, the nonprofit organization that filed all three lawsuits, said in a statement that she was satisfied with the resolution of the cases and was "cautiously optimistic" that the city’s department of education would make sure students are no longer wrongfully excluded from school.

City department of education officials did not respond to requests for comment.

—Catherine Gewertz


Officials of Fla. Private School Charged With Voucher Fraud

Seven people have been arrested as part of an investigation of a Florida private school that had accepted state money to pay for students’ tuition.

All of those charged last month were connected with Faith Christian Academy in Bartow, according to the Florida Department of Financial Services. The school had accepted state vouchers under the John M. McKay Scholarship program, which pays tuition for students with disabilities.

Two officials with the school are accused of fraudulently applying for scholarship dollars on behalf of unknowing parents and diverting the money for personal use. They are also alleged to have misappropriated money from the federal school lunch program.

The charges filed against the seven include racketeering, grand theft, money laundering, and scheming to defraud. The state department of education stopped making payments to the school in January.

—Alan Richard


Calif. State Chief Enlists Agency In Review of Anti-Drug Program

California state schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell has asked a research agency to help the state determine whether the curriculum of a popular but controversial drug-abuse-prevention program is based on scientifically accurate information.

The California Healthy Kids Resource Center, a public agency in Hayward, will do a close review of what Narconon Drug Prevention and Education is teaching thousands of students in the free presentations it does in schools across the state, Mr. O’Connell announced in a July 2 press release.

The state education department’s scrutiny of Narconon was sparked by recent articles in the San Francisco Chronicle that raised questions about the science being taught by the organization, which reportedly has ties to the Church of Scientology. The newspaper, and subsequently the San Francisco school district, detailed specific parts of the curriculum that appeared to parallel the teachings of the church. ("National Anti-Drug Organization Is Focus of California Scrutiny," June 23, 2004.)

In previous interviews, Narconon’s president, Clark Carr, said his organization would answer any questions the education department and the San Francisco school district have about the program.

—Darcia Harris Bowman


Fla. District’s School Choice Plan Trumps Federal Law, Judge Rules

A federal judge has ruled that the Pinellas County, Fla., school district’s court-ordered school choice plan supersedes the student-transfer requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. ("Fla. District: Transfers Threat To Integration," Dec. 10, 2003.)

The school system’s desegregation order "enforces an arduously negotiated settlement agreement ... which is supported by fundamental and pre-eminent principles of federal law," U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday wrote in his June 17 ruling.

The 113,000- student district, which includes St. Petersburg, filed a motion for relief from the agreement in April in order to comply with the federal law. The plan includes racial ratios for student assignment to encourage and maintain integration until 2008.

District officials said the federal law requiring that schools with poor test scores allow students transfers would render the plan unworkable in Pinellas County, which has 36 such schools.

"No Child Left Behind is a one-size-fits-all approach," said John Bowen, the Pinellas County school board’s lawyer. "It’s not going to work."

—Karla Scoon Reid


Federal Judge Says Ky. District Can Keep Race-Based Assignments

A federal judge has ruled that the Jefferson County, Ky., school district can maintain its race-based student-assignment plan to encourage integration.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II found that the 97,000-student system, which includes Louisville, has a narrowly tailored plan that also includes race-neutral factors, such as geographic boundaries. The district requires that at least 15 percent and no more than 50 percent of a school’s students be black.

Judge Heyburn wrote in his 49-page opinion on June 29 that Jefferson County’s plan showed that integrated schools are a compelling interest because of the benefits of such schools, which include improved student achievement. He added that the plan’s "broad racial guidelines do not constitute a quota."

"We consider this a tremendous victory for the school system," said Byron E. Leet, the lawyer representing the district.

But the judge ruled that creating separate lists of students by race to fill seats in some magnet schools does violate the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He barred the use of racial categories for the nine magnet schools.

Ted B. Gordon, the lawyer representing the parents who sued the district, said he would appeal much of the ruling, although he was pleased that the magnet school enrollment process will be changed. He said the district should "quit checking boxes" in assigning students.

—Karla Scoon Reid


Snapshots

  • Abelardo Saavedra has been named the interim superintendent of the 211,000- student Houston Independent School District. He has served as the deputy superintendent since 2002 and replaces Kaye Stripling, who is retiring at the end of August.

—John Gehring

  • The United Teachers of Dade has filed a lawsuit in state court in Miami seeking to force the Miami-Dade County school district to close or renovate four schools that the union says are unsanitary and causing health problems. A spokesman for the 338,400-student district said it has made many repairs to the four buildings and has formed a committee to address issues related to indoor-air quality and mold.

—Joetta L. Sack

  • What is billed as the nation’s first school for overweight adolescents will open in September. The Cerritos, Calif.-based Aspen Education Group will operate the Academy of the Sierras near Fresno, Calif., for 13- to 18-year- olds who are at least 30 pounds overweight. The private boarding school will admit 70 students.

—Rhea R. Borja

Vol. 23, Issue 42, Page 4

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