District News Roundup

May 16, 1984 6 min read

A 22-year-old man injured five years ago as a football player for a Somerville, N.J., high school has been awarded more than $1 million in an out-of-court settlement.

According to the settlement, Jamie Cap will receive an immediate $247,000 cash award, $550,000 in lump-sum payments over the next 25 years, and $50,000 a year for the rest of his life.

He was injured in 1979 during a game against another New Jersey team. The junior had attempted to make a headfirst tackle when he fractured two vertebrae in his upper spine, causing him to be paralyzed from the neck down.

Mr. Cap alleged that he had received inadequate training and instruction on the proper way to tackle, and the helmet he wore should have contained a warning about the dangers of headfirst tackles.

Named as defendants to the suit were the local board of education and Gregory Madlinger, the former head coach of the Manville High School football team.

Also named as defendants to the suit were Riddell Inc. of Illinois, the manufacturer of the helmet the young man was wearing when he was injured; and Efinger’s Sporting Goods Inc., the retailer that sold the helmets to the school district.

A circuit judge in Portland, Ore., has ruled that the David Douglas School District cannot include an invocation, benediction, or religious hymn in its commencement.

Multnomah County Circuit Judge Robert P. Jones issued the ruling in a case brought against the school district by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon on behalf of five students and a taxpayer, the mother of one of the students. One student has since been removed from the suit, an attorney said.

“My own personal belief is that prayer would add a great deal to the commencement exercise,” Judge Jones said. He added, however, that the inclusion of prayer at the graduation service is “a violation of the Constitutional prohibition of official sanction of religious beliefs.”

The chief plaintiff in the suit was Steven Kay, the valedictorian of the Class of 1984 at David Douglas High School and an agnostic, said Stevie Remington, executive director of the aclu of Oregon.

“Last year, as a junior, he ushered at the commencement exercise and he was surprised and shocked to learn it included both an invocation and a benediction and a very religious hymn that was very much a Christian hymn,” Ms. Remington said. “He thought it was inappropriate and wrote a letter to the student newspaper. He also got a petition and took it to the principal and asked that he discontinue having prayers and religious music at the commencement exercises.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Remington said, a group of Christian students also gathered signatures on a petition asking that the prayers not be removed from the graduation exercises. On April 19, she said, the two groups offered a compromise to the school board asking that a voluntary baccalaureate service be held before commencement at a church, and that no prayers be included at the high-school commencement. The board did not accept the compromise.

Robert L. Dressler, an attorney representing the David Douglas School District, said the school board has not yet decided whether to appeal the judge’s ruling. The board was to meet late last week to gather public comment on the issue.

Michigan’s attorney general, Frank Kelley, said earlier this month that Bible-study classes held during the noon hour in a western Michigan district for more than 25 years are unconstitutional.

According to Robert L. Miller, superintendent of the Tri-County School District, the Bible-study classes have been taught by volunteers from an evangelistic group called Bible Center Ministries. The classes met once a week for 30 minutes and involved about 60 students in grades 1-5 at the 400-student MacNaughton Elementary School and 40 students at the 300-student Sand Lake Elementary School.

“Until this spring, we never had a complaint about meeting in the school building. However, two parents filed a complaint and sought assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union in late March.” The aclu contacted the state department of education, which then sought a ruling from the state attorney general about the constitutionality of the classes, Mr. Miller said.

The attorney general argued that the classes, which were temporarily suspended by Mr. Miller and then reinstated by the local school board, could not be held in the school buildings during school hours.

The Michigan school code provides that any student can be released for up to two hours per week for religious instruction.

Mr. Kelley ruled that the classes could either be held off-campus during school hours or in the schools before or after regular school hours.

The group of 700 parents who filed a petition in support of the Bible classes in March have maintained that the lunch hour is not part of the school day and that classes should be allowed to continue. But Mr. Miller said that he thinks the lunch hour is considered by the courts to be part of the school day.

“The local board is going to have to seek advice from legal counsel and reconsider at its June meeting its position in light of the attorney general’s opinion,” Mr. Miller said.

The evangelistic group, which offers its classes to more than 2,500 students of about 70 public schools in West Michigan, has already agreed to discontinue the classes or move them if asked to do so.

A 12-year-old student at the Rose Hill-Magnolia Elementary School in North Carolina was suspended for the rest of the year this month after he shot himself in the abdomen with a .22-caliber pistol in front of other students.

The boy, who was not seriously injured, reportedly walked out of his 5th-grade classroom and into a nearby classroom, said, “don’t anybody move,” and shot himself.

The boy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Rich, said they thought their son, David, had been under academic pressure this year because he was a good student but had received a failing grade for the first time. David said he fired the gun to stop older boys from teasing him.

A teacher who works with the district’s home-bound students has been assigned to instruct the boy, but some parents do not want him to return to school at all. “There are parents who would love to see him put somewhere where he would be a nonthreat to their children,” said Benjamin Matthews, the school’s principal. “They’re afraid of him.”

“I know there are some outraged, scared parents,” said Mr. Rich, “but David doesn’t have a friend in the world right now. He’s a little boy, and they’re making a monster out of him.”

School administrators in Rich-mond, Ind., found a way to encourage school attendance--they offered $100 to each student who attended every period every school day.

Now the administrators are working to raise the rest of the $20,000 they feel will be necessary to pay up to 200 students who are expected to qualify for the award.

Last year, when the incentive was not offered, only 37 students had perfect attendance, said Marshall Moore, director of pupil and personnel services for the Richmond Community Schools.

Mr. Moore said that businesses and individuals gave money for the incentive and that some federal block grant money will also be used.

He said that about $17,500 had been raised, and about $3,000 in federal funds is expected to be used.

Each student with perfect attendance will be mailed a $100 check in June, he said. Mr. Moore said there will be an incentive program for perfect attendance next year, but it will probably not include a cash award.

A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 1984 edition of Education Week as District News Roundup