Current Events

August 01, 1996 9 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Standing Proud

Cissy Lacks, the Missouri teacher who was fired for failing to censor foul language from her students’ creative writing (See “Expletives Deleted,’' September 1995), has received the PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award, given by the PEN American Center. The center, which is based in New York City, is a writers’ association that defends freedom of expression. In April, actor Paul Newman presented Lacks with the award and a $25,000 check at a ceremony in New York. His nonprofit company, best known for its salad dressing, sponsors the award. Lacks, who taught at Berkeley High School in the St. Louis area, had always received high marks. She was fired in October 1994 for allowing her students to use profanity in plays they had written as part of a class project. She is fighting her dismissal in court.

Victory, Of Sorts

The dispute began last spring when special education teacher Pamela Westbrook sent a letter to two Jackson, Wyo., newspapers criticizing the Teton County district’s handling of a discipline problem. Administrators in the 2,160-student district chastised Westbrook for violating a policy that prohibits employees from bad-mouthing district officials in public. Westbrook turned around and sued the district, claiming that the policy infringed on her First Amendment rights. A federal district judge, ruling in March, agreed. But the matter didn’t end there. Westbrook sought a jury decision and damages. In May, the jury ruled that the system had made a “detrimental employment decision’’ but awarded no damages to the teacher. Still, Westbrook claimed victory. “The trial was about whether there were any rights violated,’' her lawyer said. “Basically, the jury said yes.’' District lawyer Bill Swartz saw it differently. “The jury could not have been more clear in their rejection of Westbrook’s claims,’' he said. “They wrote zero not once but three times on the verdict form.’'

Tradition Dies Hard

Indiana has lost a piece of tradition--and perhaps a bit of its soul. The board of directors of the Indiana High School Athletic Association voted 12-5 in April to split high schools into four classes for championship basketball play, ending the state’s 90-year-old tradition of having a single winner. Next year’s boys’ basketball tournament will be the last in which a single team is crowned from all 385 high schools in the state. The move closes a statewide debate that’s raged for months. (See “Hoosier Heartbreak,’' April 1995.) Supporters of multiclass basketball argued that small schools could not compete with their big-school neighbors. But critics assert that the change will spoil Indiana’s passion for the game, captured in the 1986 hit movie Hoosiers.

Students’ Rights

A federal judge has struck down part of a Texas law that requires districts to place students implicated in felony crimes in some sort of alternative education program. U.S. District Judge James Nowlin of Austin said the provision violates students’ 14th Amendment right to due process because it does not give students adequate notice or the opportunity for a hearing. The Texas law applies to off-campus as well as on-campus crimes and does not require that students be formally charged before school officials remove them from the regular classroom. A San Marcos teenager who was implicated in an off-campus rock-throwing incident challenged the law after he was transferred to an alternative program. (See “Presumed Guilty,’' May/June.)

Eligible Bachelor

Fort Pierre, S.D., math teacher Steven Reiman played along last December when friends submitted his name as a part of a Cosmopolitan magazine search for eligible bachelors. He agreed to a half-hour interview, sent in a picture of himself, and then promptly forgot about it . . . until May. The magazine’s “All About Men’’ issue picked the 25-year-old teacher as one of the country’s most eligible bachelors. Reiman didn’t even know of his selection until one of his female students at Stanley County Middle and High School brought the magazine to class. “It was fun for a while,’' he says. Along with a few personal details, the

2.2 million-circulation women’s monthly ran his picture and address. As of early June, Reiman had received about 100 letters from women across the country.

Catholic Schools

The number of students attending the nation’s 8,243 Catholic schools has risen for the fourth consecutive year, according to Sister Catherine McNamee, president of the 200,000-member National Catholic Educational Association. Catholic school enrollment this past academic year was 2.6 million students, up nearly 17,000 students over 1994-95. McNamee also reported that the number of minority students attending Catholic schools has more than doubled since the 1970-71 school year; currently 25 percent of Catholic school students are members of a minority group, she said.

Union Wins

A three-judge panel of the New Jersey Superior Court has ruled that lay elementary school teachers in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden have the right to organize and bargain collectively. The diocese had argued that the state could not force the church to recognize the union. Such a mandate, church officials said, would interfere with its constitutional right to freedom of religion. The South Jersey Catholic School Teachers Association, which already represents about 220 lay high school teachers in the diocese, wants to represent lay teachers at six Catholic elementary schools. The court stated that the right to organize is a “compelling state interest which outweighs the claimed burden on defendants’ free-exercise rights.’' An appeal is likely.

Fired Over Film

The Jefferson County, Colo., school board has fired Columbine High School teacher Al Wilder for showing his students the R-rated film 1900, by Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci. In announcing its decision, the board cited the teacher’s pattern of tardiness and leaving his classes unattended, in addition to showing the film. A hearing officer ruled this spring that Wilder should not be fired because the district’s policies on controversial learning materials are vague. But that ruling was not binding on the school board. “Mr. Wilder should have known that administrative approval should be obtained before the use of a R-rated film containing nudity, sexual conduct, drug use, and violence,’' the board said in its resolution dismissing the teacher. Wilder, who had received a letter of support from Bertolucci (See “Bravo Bernardo,’' April), has said he will challenge his dismissal in court.

Breach Of Privacy

A student has filed a lawsuit against the Montgomery County, Md., schools after a substitute teacher revealed to classmates that the teenager was infected with the virus that causes AIDS. In the $100,000 civil suit filed in May, the teenager, who has since transferred to another school, charged the 120,000-student district with failing to protect his right to privacy under state law. The teacher disclosed the student’s condition when she saw classmates sharing lip balm. She told them to stop, noting that a student in the class was HIV-positive, said Stewart Andrew Sutton, the student’s lawyer. “The teacher,’' Sutton said, “showed profound ignorance in how AIDS is transmitted.’' What’s more, the student wasn’t even in class that day. The teacher’s remark “was a well-intentioned but inappropriate disclosure of personal information,’' conceded Brian Porter, a spokesman for the district.

The teacher, he said, has been reprimanded.

Pathfinder Award

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Teachers Network has awarded its Northeast Pathfinder Award to Penny Culliton, an English teacher at Mascenic High School in New Ipswich, N.H., who in 1995 was fired for teaching two books by gay authors. She is the first heterosexual to receive the honor, which is given to individuals who have “created paths for others to follow in the fight against homophobia in schools.’' An arbitrator ruled in April that Culliton could return to her job, but the school board appealed the decision. The teachers’ network, which is based in New York City, has more than 30 chapters and 3,000 members nationwide.

Dressed Down

Teachers in the Alton, N.H., schools have been prohibited from wearing jeans, T-shirts, and any clothing that depicts drugs, alcohol, or violence or that makes a political statement. Alton school board chairman Arnold “Pete’’ Shibley proposed the policy after parents complained that some teachers were not dressed appropriately. The board approved the dress code at a meeting in May. “The teachers’ handbook had the statement that teachers would wear proper attire,’' Shibley said. “Apparently, they didn’t know what proper attire was, so we defined it for them.’' The local teachers’ union plans to file a grievance and may challenge the code in court.

Feather In Her Cap

Three Muskogee, Okla., high school students were denied their diplomas this past spring because they wore ethnic symbols at their graduation ceremony. School administrators in May accused Danaj Trudell, Garrica Johnson, and Sydney Watts, all seniors at Muskogee High School, of violating the graduation dress code, which allows students to wear only items from school-sponsored organizations. Trudell, a Dakota Indian, wore an eagle feather in her mortarboard. Johnson and Watts, both African Americans, wore multicolored Kente cloth on their gowns. Officials for the 1,570-student school say the graduating sen-iors were told of the dress code for the event three times prior to graduation. In addition, all of the students signed a statement saying they understood the policy and the consequences of not adhering to it. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma has agreed to represent the students.

Charter Slowdown

A rural Michigan school district that considered switching entirely to charter schools (See “Charter District?,’' March) has shelved the idea for now. The district conceded that it could not meet a self-imposed summer deadline. Officials in the 1,200-student Montabella district in Edmore said they were still interested in the concept but realized they would have to move more slowly to meet the requirements and foster community support for the change. Under state law, schools that win the charter-school designation receive state aid but work under relaxed regulations.

District Cleared

The Minnesota Supreme Court has cleared a school district and its superintendent of responsibility for an alleged sexual relationship involving a female teacher and a 16-year-old student. The boy, who was in three of teacher Lynn Aubrt’s classes, filed suit in December 1992, naming as defendents Aubrt as well as the 400-student LaPorte district and former superintendent Daniel Brooks. Ruling in the civil case, the state’s high court found that school and district officials could not have foreseen or detected the teacher’s alleged misconduct. The court found that the district took due care in hiring and supervising the teacher, who allegedly had repeated sexual contact with the youth in school and at her home in 1989-90, her first year of teaching.

A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1996 edition of Teacher as Current Events


Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: November 17, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Nearly a Million Kids Vaccinated in Week 1, White House Says
Experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
4 min read
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Education How Schools Are Getting Kids the COVID Shot, and Why Some Aren’t
Some district leaders say offering vaccine clinics, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to helping overcome hesitancy.
5 min read
A girl walks outside of a mobile vaccine unit after getting the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine, outside P.S. 277, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Education Biden Administration Urges Schools to Provide COVID-19 Shots, Information for Kids
The Biden administration is encouraging local school districts to host vaccine clinics for kids and information on benefits of the shots.
2 min read
President Joe Biden, and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)