Current Events in Brief
A Chicago teacher has lost her legal battle against a local television station that aired accusations that she held one of her students down and instructed his classmates to beat him. ("The Rest Of The Story," August/September.) A judge for the Circuit Court of Cook County in Illinois dismissed Rosalyn Snitowsky's suit, arguing that the reporting by WMAQ, Chicago's NBC affiliate, was based on ongoing investigations by police and the Chicago board of education and could not be construed as defamatory. Snitowsky, a veteran special education teacher, had also named her school's principal, Marjorie Adams, and other Chicago school officials as defendants in the suit. But the judge ruled that as public officials, Adams and her colleagues enjoy immunity from civil liability. Snitowsky's lawyer, Paul Vickrey, said he will appeal the decision.
Fight For Right
The parents of four Jewish children are charging in a lawsuit that Alabama's 2,600-student Pike County district violated the children's right to religious freedom. According to the suit, school officials made the students remove yarmulkes, required them to bow their heads during Christian prayers, and failed to stop anti-Semitic taunts. On one occasion, a high school vice principal disciplined one of the children by asking him to write an essay about "Why Jesus Loves Me." The boy refused, the suit says, and the superintendent later wrote to the parents to assure them such punishment would not be levied again. The suit, filed by Wayne and Sue Willis and backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, contends that the children have been denied the opportunity to practice their faith while the majority of students freely practice Christianity, often to the point of violating the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against government establishment of religion. It seeks an injunction banning unconstitutional practices in the district but does not ask for monetary damages.
St. Louis public school students had an extra incentive to show up for the first day of classes this year. Everyone marked "present" became eligible to win one of five large-screen televisions in a sweepstakes drawing to be held later in the year. "The first day is one of the low-attendance days, and you want to get kids in the school in the beginning," said superintendent Cleveland Hammonds Jr. One out of four students in the 45,000-student system skipped the first day last year; the district loses about $24 daily in state aid for each student who is absent. Maritz Inc., a Fenton, Missouri-based performance-improvement company, is running the giveaway. It has donated more than $3 million in prizes over the past eight years to encourage attendance in the St. Louis schools.
A Math Problem
School officials in Lancaster, Texas, have suspended a high school math department head and five teachers without pay for using a worksheet that framed word problems around minority stereotypes, drugs, guns, and sex. The worksheets were distributed to more than 100 students at Elsie Robertson High School on the first day of classes. The problems asked students to calculate percentages involving drug sales, drive-by shootings, and teenage pregnancies. Superintendent Bill Ward says the teachers displayed "poor judgment" but declined to comment further. The department head, suspended for 60 days, and the five teachers, suspended for 30, account for half the high school's math department. Scott Martin, the department head, told the Dallas Morning News that he received the worksheet four or five years ago at a teacher workshop and has used it before without incident.
Home Sweet School
Some people live for their jobs. Robert Broomfield, superintendent of the Raymond public schools outside of Lincoln, Nebraska, lives at his. The district chief parked his trailer on the campus of one of his schools in August and is now calling it home. "Time and availability is the major issue," he says. "The school board has wanted someone out here for years." The rural 1,000-student district has four schools spread over 200 square miles. Broomfield says his move to the grounds of Raymond Central Junior-Senior High School will allow him to keep an eye on things. "I'll stay here as long as I think it's valuable," he says.
Voice Of Experience
The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation is seeking essays and writing by senior teachers--those with at least 15 years of classroom experience--that discuss how they've kept their passion for teaching and learning alive. Project organizers will select the best submissions for a book. "Senior teachers are a valuable, but too often undervalued, segment of the profession," says Sarah Levine, the project's director. "I expect this book to have a significant positive impact on the way senior teachers are viewed." Essays should be no longer than 800 words. Send them to: A Passion for Teaching, 55 Day School Lane, Belmont, MA 02178. Or fax them to (617) 489-1942.
A federal court has ruled that Louisiana's Tangipahoa Parish can no longer require teachers to read students a disclaimer before discussing evolution. Required since 1994, the disclaimer violates the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against government establishment of religion, U.S. District Judge Marcel Livaudais Jr. said in the August decision. The disclaimer, which teachers were told to read when the theory of evolution was addressed in class, says in part: "The lesson to be presented... [is] not intended to influence or dissuade the biblical version of creation or any other concept." Two parents filed a lawsuit against the district in 1994 on behalf of their children. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana joined in the suit. The Tangipahoa school board plans to appeal the decision.
The People's Choice
Although the nation's public schools continue to enjoy strong support, a growing number of people, especially African Americans, favor private school vouchers, according to the 29th Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitude Toward the Public Schools. Although the poll did not use the term "vouchers," it asked whether respondents would favor a proposal in which the government paid all or part of the tuition for students who chose to attend nonpublic schools. Forty-nine percent of the adults surveyed, up from 43 percent last year, said they would favor such a plan. "People like the idea of choice," said Lowell Rose, the poll's director said. Support was particularly strong among black respondents; 62 percent favored the plan, compared with 47 percent of whites.
Lay teachers in the 22 Roman Catholic high schools run by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia walked off the job the week after Labor Day, the only teachers in a big-city system to strike that week. Pay was the main sticking point. Starting teachers make $24,800, and the scale tops out at $47,000, compared with $58,434 in the city's public schools. Church officials say that meeting the teachers' pay demands would force a tuition hike.
Suffolk, Virginia, high school junior David Merrell subjected one group of mice to four weeks of heavy-metal music, another to Mozart, and a third to neither. When he ran them through a maze, the control group averaged five minutes, the Mozart mice one-and-a-half, and the metal mice 30.