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Pirates In L.A: An internal audit of a Los Angeles school has uncovered hundreds of pirated computer-software programs, a violation that could cost the district millions of dollars. Under a tentative agreement, the district would be required to pay an infringement penalty of $300,000 to the Business Software Alliance, a watchdog organization for seven leading software companies.

The accord would also require the 681,500-student district to comply with federal copyright law within three years, an effort officials say could cost $4.5 million. Compliance efforts would likely mean holding seminars for staff, purchasing licensed software, and removing unlicensed programs. The audit of the school--the West Valley Occupational Center--was prompted by a call in 1996 to the BSA's pirating hot line. Pirating, which is a violation of federal law, involves making unauthorized copies of licensed software, books, or music. Rich Mason, general counsel for the Los Angeles schools, said the illegal copies at West Valley were most likely made by well-intentioned teachers or administrators who did not realize they were doing anything wrong. While there are no statistics on the number of schools that pirate software, BSA officials estimate that one in four programs used in the United States is bootlegged.

Gender Inequities: The American Association of University Women has created a commission to study differences in the ways boys and girls use computer technology. "The goal," says AAUW executive director Janice Weinman, "is to take a look at gender inequity in technology." The group wants to find out why so few girls go on to pursue careers in high-tech fields, Weinman says, and why boys tend to use computers more creatively than girls. The association became aware that girls are not benefiting as much as boys from technology while it was updating its widely discussed 1992 report, How Schools Shortchange Girls. The 13-member commission will meet three times over the next 18 months and sponsor research on gender and technology.

Profiles Online: A new privately launched World Wide Web site lets parents in California compare their children's schools in a variety of ways. The site offers the ratio of credentialed teachers in a school and their average years of experience. It also includes socioeconomic profiles, SAT scores, and results from a statewide basic-skills test. "We have pledged to be an advocate of parents and students as the customers of schools," says Steve Rees, publisher of School Wise Press, the San Francisco-based firm that runs the site. For $6, parents can order school profiles from the site, which collects its data from the California Department of Education. The Web address is www.schoolwisepress.com.

--Julie Blair, Mary Ann Zehr, and Robert C. Johnston



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