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A Call For Truce

Following a third round of national merger talks in December, leaders of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers sent a joint letter to their respective state and local union offices encouraging them to collaborate more and to hold off on turf battles while the talks are in progress. In calling for the truce, Keith Geiger, president of the NEA, and Albert Shanker, president of the AFT, were delivering on promises made last summer after the unions agreed to explore the possibility of creating one national teachers' organization. While several state and local affiliates of the two unions already collaborate on professional activities and lobbying, others still vie with each other over members and district contracts. According to an AFT spokesperson, Geiger and Shanker "are just saying, 'Let's put things on hold right now until the talks are over.' '' Both leaders have indicated that they believe a merger could make teachers a more powerful force in school reform.

An Academic Shift

A new study has revealed that high school students today are taking more academic courses than their counterparts did a generation ago and almost as many as students in the late 1920s. Student enrollment in academic courses--English, mathematics, science, foreign language, and social studies-- dropped from 67 percent in the 1920s to a low of 57 percent in 1961, according to the University of Michigan study. Over the same period, enrollment in nonacademic courses--industrial arts, home economics, health and physical education, and music--increased from 33 percent to 43 percent. By 1990, however, the trends had reversed, with students earning 66 percent of their credits in academic courses and 34 percent in nonacademic courses. The statistics, says David Angus, a professor of educational history at the University of Michigan, suggest that efforts over the past 20 years to raise education standards are having an effect. Angus and Jeffrey Mirel, an associate professor at Northern Illinois University, based the survey on high school course registration, which the federal government has tracked since the late 19th century.

Equality For All

The Massachusetts Senate in December passed a bill outlawing discrimination against gay and lesbian students in the public schools. The measure, which had already passed in the House, makes Massachusetts the first state to attempt by statute to safeguard students from harassment and abuse as a result of their sexual orientation. Supporters of the bill credited lobbying by hundreds of students from all over the state for tipping the balance in the Senate, where the legislation had been stalled for three years. Both heterosexual and homosexual students wrote letters, talked to lawmakers, and demonstrated outside the statehouse in Boston in hopes of rescuing legislation that for a long time had seemed doomed. In a report last winter, a special commission formed to study the issue noted that homosexual teenagers were more likely than others to attempt suicide and to drop out of school. Under the new measure, students who think they have been victims of discrimination because of their sexual orientation will be able to file lawsuits.

Gun Ban Upheld

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit unanimously ruled in December that the federal law making it a crime to possess a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school is constitutional. The decision, however, conflicts with an earlier one by the 5th Circuit court, which held that the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 violated the constitution. [See "Current Events,'' November/December 1993.] The 9th Circuit case involved 19-year-old Ray Harold Edwards 3rd, who was found in a Sacramento, Calif., high school parking lot with a rifle and a sawed-off shotgun in the trunk of his car. Police searched the car because they suspected Edwards of gang activity. A lawyer for the teenager, who was sentenced to several months in a halfway house, said he plans to appeal.

His Just Reward

Officials of an Arizona district have agreed to apologize and pay restitution to a 13-year-old disabled student to whom teachers presented derogatory awards at a school ceremony. The Bonita Elementary School District No. 16 agreed, as part of a settlement worked out in Pima County Superior Court, to pay John Henderson 2nd a lump sum of $15,600 and to establish a fund that will pay him an $8,900 annuity for four years beginning on his 18th birthday. The boy was identified in kindergarten as suffering from numerous learning disabilities. At a 1992 school awards ceremony, teachers presented him with a "Procrastinator's Award,'' a "Pigsty Award,'' and a "World's Worst Athlete Award.''

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