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Published in Print: July 28, 2004, as News in Brief: A National Roundup

News in Brief: A National Roundup

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U.S. Appeals Court Backs Boston Assignment Plan

A federal appeals court has rejected arguments by Boston parents who claimed that the school district’s student-assignment plan unfairly discriminates against white students.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, in Boston, found on July 12 that the 60,000-student district has not unfairly limited white students’ chances of being accepted into their preferred schools.

Under the Boston schools’ assignment policy for elementary and middle schools, the city is divided into three geographical zones. Half of a school’s seats are reserved for neighborhood students; the rest are filled by a lottery system.

The Boston school committee is considering options for changing that policy in response to the increasing costs of busing and parents’ desire for more neighborhood schools. ("Assignment Debate Stirs Emotions in Boston," June 16, 2004.)

The appeals court’s decision ends a four-year lawsuit that was filed by the parents’ group Boston’s Children First when the district still used race as a factor in assigning students. The district stopped using race in the 2000-01 academic year.

"Attitudes in Boston have evolved, policies have changed, institutions have reorganized," the unanimous decision by the appellate panel says. "In many ways, the social fabric has been reknit."

—John Gehring


Audit Raps Baltimore Schools On Spending of Federal Money

An audit by the Maryland Department of Education has found that the Baltimore public schools have improperly spent $18 million in federal Title I money since 2001.

The news came as a potential setback to the 90,000-student district, which is struggling to close a $58 million deficit in its $914 million budget.

The audit, released this month, found that Baltimore officials had spent Title I dollars, which must be used in schools with high percentages of disadvantaged students, to pay for teachers in non-Title I schools and other programs not covered under the federal program.

State education officials do not believe the district deliberately misspent the money, but say Baltimore did not have proper internal controls over how the money was used.

Edie House-Foster, a spokeswoman for the district, said the system can prove that much of the federal aid was spent properly. The district sent a July 15 letter to state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick requesting a meeting to review the school system’s data. Ms. Grasmick had not yet responded to that request late last week.

—John Gehring


Ga. Educators Lose Licenses Over Degrees From Liberia

Eleven Georgia educators who obtained bogus master’s degrees and doctorates to qualify for higher pay may no longer teach in the state’s public schools, a state ethics panel has decided. The 11-1 vote by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission on July 8 strips the 10 teachers and one principal of their teaching certificates. At least one of the educators plans to appeal the decision.

The educators obtained the degrees from Saint Regis University, allegedly a phony university, or "diploma mill," based in Liberia. ("Educators’ Degrees Earned on Internet Raise Fraud Issues," May 5, 2004.)

The Atlanta-based commission found them guilty of several ethics violations, such as falsifying their professional qualifications. It also passed a rule, which could be made final next month, to accept only those degrees from overseas that are validated by one of four specified credential-evaluation firms.

—Andrew Trotter


Contractor Charged With Fraud In Mold Removal From Schools

A New York state man has been charged with defrauding several Connecticut school districts in an alleged mold-removal scam.

Ronald Shongar, 57, appeared on July 15 in U.S. District Court in New Haven, Conn., on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, and violations of the Federal Fungicide, Insecticide, and Rodenticide Act. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the case.

Mr. Shongar, the owner of the Clifton Park, N.Y.-based Microb Phase Inc., targeted the Easton, Manchester, and Bristol school districts, among others in Connecticut, as early as 2000, prosecutors say. Mr. Shongar may also have defrauded schools in New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia, they added.

According to court documents, Mr. Shongar falsely stated that the product he uses, Microb Shield, was registered with the EPA and would eliminate mold and fungi.

Mr. Shongar was released on a $50,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court to enter a plea on Aug. 4. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count of mail and wire fraud and up to one year of imprisonment and a $25,000 fine for each violation of the federal act.

—Rhea R. Borja


Fla. Judge Grants Class Status To Suit Challenging School Quality

A lawsuit arguing that the Pinellas County, Fla., school district fails to provide a high-quality education to black students has been granted class-action status.

The suit, filed in state court in 2000, charges that the 113,000-student district, which includes St. Petersburg, is obligated under the Florida Constitution to maintain programs that would ensure black students receive a strong education.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge James Case certified the suit as a class action on July 1. Now all of the district’s 21,000 black students are represented in the case, along with future black students who will attend school in the system.

John W. Bowen, the district’s lawyer, said he would ask the school board for permission to appeal the class-action certification. He said the district’s desegregation settlement, reached in 2000, includes detailed plans to remedy the achievement gap.

—Karla Scoon Reid


Arizona Technical School Signs Agreement on Language Policies

The U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights is requiring the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa, Ariz., to adopt written policies and procedures for how it will communicate with students’ parents who have limited proficiency in English.

The federal office investigated the school’s language policies in response to a complaint it received in November, filed by the Arizona League of United Latin American Citizens. The complaint alleged that the school treated some students differently from others by prohibiting them from speaking Spanish during informal, social conversations in a cosmetology classroom, according to a June 21 letter that the OCR sent to the school. ("Classroom Ban on Spanish Protested," Oct. 29, 2003.)

The complaint also alleged that the school discriminated against parents with limited English skills by not communicating with them in a language they could understand.

While a cosmetology instructor at the school had required students last fall to speak English during class time, she dropped that rule during the course of the OCR’s investigation, the letter said, and thus the issue did not need to be addressed in a complaint resolution.

But the June 14 complaint resolution spells out steps the school must take to adequately communicate with parents who don’t understand English.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Ed. Dept.’s ‘Teacher Summit’ Part of Outreach Effort

The U.S. Department of Education’s "teacher summit" drew more than 150 teachers from across the country to Washington last week.

The goal of the one-day event was to help boost student achievement as required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act by giving teachers the latest "research-based" information about teaching and learning to bring back home, organizers said.

The summit was part of the Bush administration’s "Teacher-to-Teacher" outreach effort. Teachers and their unions have been highly critical of the sweeping federal law.

Seven regional workshops sponsored by the Education Department and focused on teaching-skill demonstrations also were scheduled this summer. The remaining gatherings will be in St. Louis on July 28-30 and Boston on Aug. 2-4.

—Bess Keller

Snapshots

  • Mike Moses, the superintendent of the 161,000-students Dallas Independent School District, has resigned, effective Aug. 31. Mr. Moses, 52, submitted his resignation on July 14.

—Tal Barak

Vol. 23, Issue 43, Page 4

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