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Published in Print: February 1, 1999, as Current Events

Current Events

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Honorable Mention

A federal court has ordered the National Honor Society to admit Somer Chipman and Chasity Glass, 17-year-old Williamstown, Kentucky, high school seniors who claimed that they were denied membership in the group's local chapter because of premarital sexual activity. ("Honorable Discharge," January, 1999.) A preliminary injunction issued in December allows the girls to be admitted to the society for the rest of the year while the case goes to trial. School officials said they would comply with the court's order but maintained that they did not discriminate against the two pregnant girls.

Home Team Wins

Massachusetts' highest court has ruled that school officials in Lynn, Massachusetts, do not have the right to visit home schools to monitor how students are being taught. Two families had challenged the Lynn school board's policy requiring parents of home-schooled children to allow visits from school officials. If parents did not comply, the school system would not approve home-education plans and parents could face prosecution under state truancy laws.

A Record Trip

A Florida district has set a new world record for the largest field trip. Last year, more than 4,000 students from West Palm Beach and 150 chaperones traveled from Florida to Washington, D.C., over a four-week period. The district chartered an Amtrak train, and every weekend about 1,000 students and several chaperones took the 20-hour ride. The annual trip, which cost $460 per person, is open to all 5th graders who are members of the district's safety-patrol association. "This serves as a reward and a learning experience to students," said Buzz Spooner, president of the association. Though officials at the Guinness Book of Records recently told district officials that the trip was a record, they could not say whether the trip would be featured in the edition of the book due out soon.

Heroin Use Jumps

Heroin use among high school students jumped sharply in the past five years as the narcotic has become easier to acquire, according to a study published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics. Though heroin use among adolescents is still relatively low, the proportion of 12th graders who reported using the highly addictive drug doubled from 0.9 percent in 1990 to 1.8 percent in 1996. The rate climbed even higher in 1997, to 2.1 percent, according to Richard Schwartz, a pediatrician in Falls Church, Virginia, who reviewed data from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency for the report. Overall, the age at which people use heroin is getting younger, Schwartz found. The average age of a heroin user was 27 in 1988, but by 1995, it had dropped to 19. Schwartz said one reason for the dramatic increase in the drug's popularity is that it is now cheaper and easier for many middle-class, suburban teenagers to purchase than it was a decade ago. "It's sold and freely available in the suburbs," he said. "You don't have to go into the inner city to get it." Teenagers, he added, tend to sniff or snort heroin, wrongly believing it's less dangerous than "shooting up." The troubling health effects of heroin and its highly addictive nature, Schwartz said, should put parents and educators on alert despite the relatively small numbers of children experimenting with the drug.

Too Hot To Handle

A teacher is suing the Pinellas County school board in Florida over a directive that prohibits teachers from using materials detailing the investigation of President Clinton. Linda Manning, who teaches a college-level American government class at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs, has asked a federal court in Tampa for an injunction, claiming the district violated her First Amendment right to free speech. The 110,000-student district sent a memo to teachers in September forbidding classroom use of the president's grand jury testimony or the report from special investigator Kenneth Starr, which includes sexually explicit details of Clinton's liaisons with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. After an appeal to the school's principal was rejected, Manning complied with the rule but decided to challenge the district's authority to restrict teachers' use of instructional materials. District officials said they cannot allow teachers to use such explicit materials in the classroom.

Protesting Prop. 227

Several educators' groups are challenging California's new law that aims to eliminate bilingual education in California classrooms. A lawsuit filed by the groups asks the court to strike down a key provision of Proposition 227, the ballot initiative approved by voters last year. The provision allows parents to sue educators and school board members and to hold them personally liable for fees and damages if they refuse to abide by the law. The plaintiffs, including the California Teachers Association and the National Association for Bilingual Education, argue that the law chills educators' rights to communicate with students and that it is too vague. Supporters of the law say the personal-liability section adds much-needed accountability.

Vol. 10, Issue 5, Pages 10-11

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