District News Roundup

February 12, 1992 7 min read

A federal appeals court has dismissed a teacher’s race-discrimination lawsuit against an Indiana school district and rejected her attempt to retroactively apply the Civil Rights Act of 1991 to her case.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on Jan. 21 upheld a federal district judge’s dismissal of the teacher’s lawsuit against the school district in Indianapolis. The appellate panel reached that decision even though the district judge had based the dismissal on a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision that was overturned last year by the Congress’s adoption of the new civil-rights law.

In the case, Partee v. Metropolitan School District of Washington Township, Maxine Partee contended, among other things, that she had been denied promotions to various positions because of her race.

The district judge said that, based on the 1989 High Court decision in Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, which limited a key federal race-discrimination statute to the area of hiring, the teacher could not sue for discrimination in promotions once on the job.

But the Patterson ruling was one of seven recent High Court decisions overturned by the Congress last year. The Civil Rights Act makes clear that all stages of employment discrimination are covered by federal law.

A major open question in employment law is whether the new civil-rights law will apply retroactively to cases pending when it was enacted.

The Bush Administration and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have argued that the law should not apply retroactively. Several federal judges have split on the issue.

The Seventh Circuit panel is the first appellate court to rule on the issue, but the panel rejected Ms. Partee’s attempt to apply the 1991 law on procedural instead of substantive grounds. The opinion said the teacher had “waived any consideration” of the issue by not raising it until after oral argument before the panel in December.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced a 12.6 percent tuition increase for the 25 high schools in the archdiocese, sending tuition over the $2,000 mark for the first time.

Tuition will total $2,225 for Catholic students, an increase of $250, and $2,800 for non-Catholics, an increase of $325.

Even with that increase, archdiocesan officials said, the secondary-school system likely will face a $4-million deficit next year. Nearly 26,000 students attend the schools.

“Parental tuition and parish support do not cover the cost of operating our schools,” Msgr. Thomas J. Leonard, Philadelphia’s secretary for Catholic education, told parents in a letter. “Until we can eliminate our operating deficit, we need your help in sharing the expense through a tuition increase.”

High-school enrollment in the archdiocese has decreased by more than 6 percent in each of the last four years, officials said.

For the 1991-92 school year, the archdiocese imposed the largest tuition increase ever, a 16.2 percent jump, raising tuition by $275. Archdiocesan officials later announced a drive to raise $100 million over the next few years, with much of the money slated for schools.

A school-board committee in Milwaukee has recommended opening a special school to serve the community’s Native American students.

In a report to the beard, the American Indian Education Issues Task Force argues that the district’s 1,125 Indian students tend to become “lost” in a school system that “stresses values in contradiction to their own.”

The proposed school, which supporters said would be open to children of all races, would stress Indian learning styles, which experts say emphasize such values as cooperation over competition.

The proposed Minowaki School, which would take its name from the Ojibwe word for “good earth,” would be similar in mission to an African-American-immersion school that opened in the city last fall.

The proposal calls for opening such a school as early as next September. District officials noted, however, that the district budget might not support the estimated $1.1-million cost of operating the school so soon.

Applicants are already responding to Detroit General Superintendent Deborah McGriff’s recent proposal to allow business and community leaders to become school principals.

Ms. McGriff has proposed opening principal’s positions to candidates with three years’ experience as managers in business, community, or civic organizations. Prospective principals would have to obtain a waiver from the Michigan Board of Education before they could be hired.

Currently, Detroit principals must have a teaching certificate, a master’s degree, and at least two years’ experience as an assistant principal.

Administrators’ groups have condemned the superintendent’s proposal. “We certainly hope that it will not proceed,” said Jack Bittle, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. “School has gotten so complicated that the principal has to have a good background in curriculum and supervision.”

Some teachers in the District of Columbia last week were refusing to perform extra duties before or after school as part of a work-to-the-rule protest organized by the Washington Teachers Union.

Response to the union’s call for teachers to work only during the normal 8:30 A.M. to 3:30 P.M. school day appeared to be mixed. Some of the city’s 6,700 teachers were declining to attend workshops, help with school sports, write letters of reference or help students complete financial-aid forms for college, and take on other after-school activities. Other teachers conducted their normal after-school activities.

At issue is a new contract the union is negotiating with the city’s beard of education. Reports indicate that both sides have agreed to an 11 percent pay raise for teachers over three years, but the union opposes the board’s proposal to lengthen the school day by 30 minutes.

The Oakland, Calif., school district recently avoided a threatened state takeover after outlining its intention to cut $1.2 million from this year’s operating budget.

The district’s finances have been supervised by an advisory trustee since 1989, but State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig had threatened further action in the wake of ongoing financial difficulties and protracted talks in a teacher-contract dispute.

State officials said last week that the Oakland district had responded satisfactorily to their concerns. As part of its budget reductions, the district has implemented a hiring freeze. In addition, it has agreed to binding arbitration with 3,000 teachers who have worked without a contract since July.

Three high-school students in Norwalk, Calif., who say they wanted to dramatize the extent of drug problems in their school have been suspended for videotaping classmates allegedly smoking marijuana in school.

The 10-minute videotape showed two male students smoking what appeared to be hand-rolled cigarettes at the back of a Norwalk High School classroom while a substitute teacher sat at her desk doing paperwork.

The two students, who later said the cigarettes were filled with oregano, were also suspended.

The three students who taped the video became minor celebrities when they gave a number of interviews to the news media and a local television station paid them for the right to broadcast the tape.

Officials of the Norawalk-La Mirada Unified School District termed the video a publicity stunt and said that drug use at the school is not as severe as the three students assert.

A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that a high-school assistant principal acted properly when he searched the book bag of a 1Oth-grade student and allegedly found dozens of vials of cocaine.

The ruling this month overturned a state superior-court decision that the school official, Richard Stone, did not have reasonable grounds to search the 18-year-old student, Terrel Moore.

Superior Court Judge Richard S. Rebeck based his decision on a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that school officials may search students if they have a reasonable belief that there has been a violation of school rules.

The appeals court, however, held that Mr. Stone, who works at Middlesex County Vocational Technical High School in Piscataway, had grounds to search the book bag because Mr. Moore denied that it was his.

After receiving a tip that Mr. Moore had a bag of marijuana, Mr. Stone searched the student, but found nothing. The student then denied that a book bag with his name on it belonged to him. Inside, school officials allegedly found 75 vials of cocaine.

Because of the ruling, authorities will be able to prosecute Mr. Moore, who was indicted for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute on school grounds.

A version of this article appeared in the February 12, 1992 edition of Education Week as District News Roundup