News In Brief
As of last month, anyone wishing to find out whether a Minnesota teacher is licensed can simply enter the teacher's name on a Web site run by the state department of children, families, and learning. Although such a site had been under consideration, it was rushed onto the Web after an unlicensed teacher was arrested in January and charged with having sex with a student, says Doug Gray, a spokesman for the department. The teacher allegedly lied about his teaching credentials to his employer, the 1,100-student Norwood-Young American schools. State law bars districts from hiring unlicensed educators. After protests from teachers, the department backed away from listing teachers' home addresses on the site. But addresses are still available by written request.
Following a contentious debate, the Los Angeles school board in February authorized district police officers to carry 12-gauge shotguns. Two of the board's seven members voted against the policy, saying they weren't convinced the extra firepower was needed in light of recent reductions in national, city, and school crime rates. "We have a careful police force," says school board member Valerie Fields. "But I am very concerned that because of the nature of shotguns and the broadcast of the pellets, there could be maiming and killing of innocent bystanders." But Pat Spencer, a spokesman for the 682,000-student school system, says the majority of the board believes the weapons will serve as a deterrent to crime. Though on-campus violent crime among juveniles in Los Angeles has declined in the past several years, property crimes, such as vandalism and theft, have been rising as schools acquire more and more expensive high-tech equipment, Spencer says. Because a shotgun has a wider range than a handgun, he added, it is a more effective weapon if an officer is confronted by several burglars in a school at night.
A former public school student who claimed she was excluded from the National Honor Society because she refused to pledge allegiance to the flag has won a $60,000 settlement with the city of Waterbury, Connecticut. The agreement, announced in February, settled the two-year-old lawsuit of Tisha Byars, who claimed that Wilby High School had discriminated against her when it denied her admission to the National Honor Society. Byars, who is black, said the school based its decision on her refusal to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Her parents had discouraged her from saying the pledge, arguing that blacks are not afforded freedom and justice in America. School officials said the decision was due to an unrelated disciplinary action against Byars, who is now in her first year at the University of Connecticut. In addition to the cash settlement, the city agreed to explain in the district's student handbook that youngsters are not required to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that public schools cannot impose such a requirement.
Waiting To Exhale
The Pledge of Allegiance has also been in the news in Dade County, Florida, where longtime school board member G. Holmes Braddock has proposed a rule that would require students to say the phrase "one nation under God" in one breath. Students in the 347,000-student school system—like most—pause between "one nation" and "under God," but Holmes says they've got it wrong. "There's no pause there," he argues. "My point is, if you're going to teach it, teach it properly. If Congress wanted a pause, they would have put in a comma." Experts say the battle to do away with the pause is futile. "The fact that a pause is not indicated by a comma does not mean you may not put a pause in," says Craig Packard of the National Center for Linguistics. "This rule sounds like it has nothing to do with language and everything to do with politics." Written in 1892 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of America's discovery, the pledge originally read: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." In 1923, the U.S. Flag Association replaced "my flag" with "the flag of the United States of America" as an attempt to unify the country. At the urging of President Eisenhower, Congress added "under God" in 1954 to distinguish the United States from countries with political systems of atheistic communism.
Gay Ban Illegal
A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that the Boy Scouts' ban on homosexuals violates state antidiscrimination law. The ruling last month by the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division overturned a 1993 decision that upheld the Scouts' expulsion of James Dale, an Eagle Scout who earned 30 merit badges during his 12 years with the organization. Dale was expelled from the Monmouth Council of the Boy Scouts in 1990 after the group discovered he was gay. The appeals court said that Boy Scout troops are "places of accommodation" that emphasize open membership and thus must adhere to the state's antidiscrimination laws. The Irving, Texas-based Boy Scouts of America, which has 5.8 million members nationwide, plans to appeal the decision.
Slurs Draw Penalty
A Bloomington, Indiana, high school basketball team received anything but a warm welcome when it played at Martinsville in January. According to Jim Russell of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, players for Bloomington North High School, a state powerhouse, were taunted with racial slurs before and during their game against Martinsville High. Bloomington North is a racially and ethnically diverse school that enrolls the children of many Indiana University faculty members. Its basketball team includes three players from Africa and one from Indonesia as well as four African Americans. There are no black players on the team from Martinsville, which is located 20 miles north of Bloomington. Following the incident, the state athletic association placed Martinsville on probation and banned all sporting events at the school for a year. In addition, the school's administration has been directed to take steps to prevent such behavior in the future.
No Hugs Allowed
Students at Nicholas Junior High School in Fullerton, California, are not cuddling up to a schoolwide prohibition against hugging. Administrators at the 967-student school last month began putting the squeeze on students who hug or engage in any other public displays of affection. The ban was adopted nearly seven years ago but never actively enforced. Although no one has been suspended or expelled yet for embracing, students did appear at a recent school board meeting to voice their disapproval. "Each principal is allowed to create such policy on student behavior," a district spokeswoman says.
One of the surprise stories of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, was Morrisville, Vermont, social studies teacher Marc Gilbertson. A native of Indiana, the 28-year-old had never competed in an international race before he won his spot on the U.S. Ski Team in the 50-kilometer cross-country race. Training before and after school, often at dawn or dusk with a headlight strapped on, he earned the nickname "Dark Horse." In Nagano, however, Gilbertson couldn't beat the long odds facing him, finishing 52nd out of 62 skiers in the February 22 event.