Current Events

March 01, 1999 4 min read

Retirement Relief

A Texas judge has approved a nearly $11 million settlement in a class action lawsuit involving thousands of teachers nationwide who said they were misled by the Austin-based National Western Life Insurance Co. into buying a retirement plan that paid little or no interest for several years. In their suit, the plaintiffs claimed they were surprised to find their annuity plan paid no interest for at least seven years after they retired. The agreement calls for National Western to pay claims ranging from $1,400 to $138,300 to as many as 87,000 policyholders nationwide.


The Chicago school system has taken legal action against a newspaper run by dissident teachers after the paper printed sections of the district’s new $1.3 million high school tests. The breach of security by the paper Substance means that teachers will have to write new test questions for the Chicago Academic Standards Exams. After students in the city’s 74 high schools took the pilot tests on January 15, the newspaper printed the questions for the English, algebra, world studies, and U.S. history tests. The district then obtained a temporary restraining order that prohibited the paper from publishing any additional sections of the exams. “You expect there to be criticism,” said Phil Hansen, chief accountability officer for the district. “The only thing you can do is be as collaborative and open as possible. You’d never expect this kind of sabotage.” Substance Editor George Schmidt, an English teacher at Bowen High School, could not be reached for comment. But in an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, he called the tests “sophomoric,” “mindless,” and “a curricular atrocity.” District officials are moving to fire Schmidt. They don’t know how he got copies of the exams outside his subject area. Over the years, Substance has been a thorn in the side of both the administration and the local teachers’ union. [“The Muckrakers,” August 1994.]

Change Of Heart

The Boston school board voted in February not to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review a ruling that struck down a race-conscious admissions policy at the district’s prestigious Boston Latin School. The board reversed its earlier decision to appeal the ruling after hearing from civil rights advocates, who feared the court might use the case as an opportunity to limit affirmative action. “There was just a lot of concern about taking this case forward with the more conservative tilt of the Supreme Court,” said board chairwoman Elizabeth Reilinger. If the high court “ruled against us,” she added, “it could have the potential of dismantling affirmative action programs around the country.” In November, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled that there was no legal justification for the district’s policy of considering race for roughly half the slots at Boston Latin and two other selective city schools. [“Diversity Denied,” January.]

Kelly To Depart

James Kelly

After 11 years on the job, James Kelly has announced that he plans to step down as president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards some time in 1999. “It’s the right time professionally and personally,” the 64-year-old Kelly said. The nonprofit, privately launched board is building a system to recognize outstanding classroom teachers. It has certified more than 1,800 so far, and another 7,000 are seeking certification. The board’s 63-member governing body plans to conduct a national search for Kelly’s replacement. Chairwoman Barbara Kelley, a physical education teacher at Vine Street Elementary School in Bangor, Maine, said Kelly has demonstrated “outspoken, unwavering respect for teachers.”

Nod To Novices

The nation’s newly minted teachers now have an organization to help them through their difficult first years in the classroom. The Denver-based National Association for Beginning Teachers, launched in the fall, already has some 300 members. The nonprofit group, which charges $49 for a one-year membership, aims to help rookies with a bimonthly newsletter and a quarterly magazine called Inspire; national conferences, seminars, and workshops; and an interactive site on the Web. For information on the association, contact the group at: 820 16th St., Suite 410, Denver, CO 80202; (303) 893-1635. The Web site is

Bad Call

A Melvern, Kansas, principal has been convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to report the suspected abuse of a kindergartner to state officials. According to district superintendent C.B. Harris, a teacher and a teaching assistant at Marais des Cygnes Valley elementary and high school noticed this fall that a 5-year-old pupil had a bruised cheek and scratches on her neck. They brought the girl to principal Michael Dougherty’s attention, but the three concluded that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to warrant filing a report with the authorities. Police were later called to the girl’s home in a separate incident and arrested her mother, who eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated battery on her daughter. Charges then were filed against the principal for not reporting the girl’s injuries. Dougherty faces up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,000. The 290-student Unified School District No. 456, which is representing the principal in court, plans to appeal his conviction.