Two teachers fired last year by the Vaughn, New Mexico, school district for using controversial curricular materials will share a $520,000 settlement. The teachers, Nadine and Patsy Cordova, filed a lawsuit against the 500-student district in 1997, claiming they were wrongfully dismissed for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. The sisters refused to discontinue using Hispanic- oriented materials and books intended to promote racial and religious tolerance in their predominantly Hispanic classes. [See “Sisters In Arms,” August/September 1997.] All negative references to the case will be removed from the teachers’ personnel files as part of the settlement, which was announced in mid-November. Nadine Cordova said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the pair, that the case was a victory for teachers who stand up for their rights. Since filing the lawsuit, the Cordovas have taken jobs in another district.
Go Ask Alice . . .
Although the marching band at Fort Zumwalt North High School in suburban St. Louis spent months practicing the 1960s rock song “White Rabbit,” it won’t be performing it any time soon. Bernard DuBray, superintendent of the Fort Zumwalt school system, banned the tune this fall after some parents expressed concern that the Jefferson Airplane song glorifies drug use. He felt that the high school, which promotes a strong anti-drug message, would be sending mixed signals to students if he allowed the band to perform the music. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, 16 students and their families sought a court injunction to reverse the district’s ban. U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel turned down the request in October, but the plaintiffs, who claim that the ban restricts their freedom of expression, say they will continue their legal fight.
A high school principal in Sunnyside, Washington, suspended 175 students for two days after they walked out of classes to protest the state’s passage of an anti-affirmative action initiative. The law bans racial or gender preferences in state government, including admissions to colleges. Principal Robert Thomas said he met the student protesters in front of the school November 4, the day after the vote, and told them to come inside. Instead they marched to the center of town before police officers dispersed them without incident. The students were initially suspended for three days, but Thomas reduced that penalty after students complained of being denied due process. Hispanics make up 70 percent of the 1,230 students enrolled in the school, though the protesters included both Hispanic and Anglo students.
A former student of New York City English teacher Jonathan Levin has been convicted of second-degree murder in the teacher’s May 1997 slaying. Corey Arthur, now age 20, faces 25 years to life in prison. Arthur was also convicted of robbery in the incident; that conviction could carry an additional sentence of up to 25 years. Levin had befriended Arthur when he was the boy’s teacher at the 4,000-student Taft High School in the Bronx during the 1993-94 school year. The widely reported murder spurred discussions among educators nationwide about the risks teachers take in forging friendships with students outside of class. [See “Killed By Kindness?” August/September 1997 and “A Lesson In Life,” January 1998.] Arthur’s alleged accomplice has not yet been tried.
A Million Members
Thanks to the urge to merge, the American Federation of Teachers is now 1 million strong. Membership in the AFT has increased steadily in recent years, but it took the recent merger of the union’s Minnesota affiliate with that of the National Education Association’s to push the organization over the 1 million mark. The merged affiliate, Education Minnesota, is the only such state organization made up of members of both national teachers’ unions. AFT President Sandra Feldman said the “milestone shows that the AFT is healthy and continues to grow.” One of the five largest members of the AFL-CIO, the AFT still has a long way to go to catch up to the NEA, the nation’s largest union with some 2.4 million members.
The New Jersey education department has pulled the plug on single-sex classes at a middle school, citing what it says are violations of Title IX, the 1972 law barring sex discrimination in schools that receive federal aid. Under the voluntary single-sex pilot program at the 1,080-student William Allen Middle School in Moorestown Township, 44 boys and girls in 8th grade had been taking separate mathematics and science classes since September. Teachers and administrators had hoped to determine whether the setting encouraged boys and girls to perform better in those subjects. Though district officials said the experiment was going well, the program’s students were returned to coeducational classes to comply with the state order.
Education Hot Line
When an Oklahoma mother seeking information on special education policies called a toll-free telephone number listed on a newsletter handed out by the state department of education, she got some educational information of another kind. A vampy voice on the other end asked her if she would like to speak with “hot live girls.” The number, previously assigned to the National Information Center for Children and Youth With Disabilities, now refers callers to a phone-sex hot line. The woman notified state education department officials, who were shocked at the news. But she’s not the first person to report the problem, says Suzanne Ripley, director of the Washington, D.C.-based center. More than 20 people have notified the organization directly in the past year. The center’s new phone number is (800) 695-0285.