District News Roundup

May 13, 1992 5 min read

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the Orange County, Fla., school district in an effort to force school officials to re-evaluate their student-expulsion policy.

The suit was filed on the behalf of three students whose parents claim that the youngsters were unfairly expelled and that their special-education needs were unmet.

The main plaintiff, Ulysses Delgado, had been suspended for his involvement in a fight; before the incident, his mother had unsuccessfully attempted to place the 15-year-old in a special-education program.

Late last month, a state circuit-court judge ordered the student’s expulsion set aside until he could be evaluated for any special needs.

Francine Paradise, a representative of Greater Orange Area Legal Services, says the suit has attracted the attention of other parents whose at-risk children have been suspended or expelled.

According to Ms. Paradise, Orange County students accounted for two-thirds of the 743 students expelled from Florida schools in the 1990-91 school year.

During the court-ordered student evaluation, district officials said, Ulysses was found to be emotionally handicapped and, therefore, may be eligible for summer school, rather than expulsion.

David Sojourner, an assistant superintendent for secondary education in the 105,000-student district, said expulsion candidates are being similarly evaluated for special-education needs.

School officials in Cheltenham, Pa., have pledged to respond more quickly to indications of learning disabilities in children after federal investigators faulted the district for ignoring a father’s concerns about his daughter’s learning problems.

In an agreement signed last month with the U.S. Education Department’s office for civil rights, district officials pledged to instruct staff members to provide parents with information about their rights under special-education law and about the district’s handicapped programs when they raise such concerns in the future. School officials are required to evaluate a child for disabilities upon a parent’s request.

The investigation was prompted by Robert Landau, who said school officials had failed to respond to his concerns, expressed since 1989, that his daughter might have a learning disability.

The young woman, who graduates this year, was indeed found to be learning disabled when school officials evaluated her this spring.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in a DeKalb County, Ga., school-desegregation case offers little grounds for a Louisiana district to get out from under federal court supervision, the U.S. Justice Department has argued in a legal brief.

The Monroe City school board cannot escape court supervision using the logic of the recent High Court decision because, unlike the DeKalb County district, Monroe has never overcome the effects of desegregation and cannot blame its racial imbalances in schools on population shifts, Justice Department officials argued last month.

Moreover, the district has violated court orders and taken actions that perpetuate segregation, the Justice Department asserted in a brief filed at the request of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

The Justice Department conceded that the Monroe district has become desegregated in some areas, including extracurricular activities, but argued that the District Court should deny the district’s request to be declared “unitary,’'

Superintendent Octavio Visiedo of Dade County, Fla., has recommended the firing of three employees who overpaid two contractors hired to remove asbestos from the district’s schools by $9 million.

George Balsa, the district’s assistant superintendent in the office of management audits, said the board had authorized in October 1989 that the two contractors, Wayne Blackwell and Company Inc. and CNH Construction Inc., receive $3 million over a two-year period for removal work. But administrators continued to authorize work with the firms totaling $12 million, he said.

A district spokesman said that the Dade state attorney’s office is conducting a crimininal investigation and that the school system is reviewing its financial-control procedures.

Boston’s public schools are in a state of bureaucratic “gridlock’’ and in need “radical change,’' a report by a conservative think tank charges.

The report by the Pioneer Institute calls for replacing the existing “bureaucratic culture’’ of the district with “entrepreneurial schools’’ with financial, administrative, and decisionmaking authority on the local school level.

Steven Wilson, the co-director of the institute and the author of the study, calls the district’s current controlled-choice and school-based management policies ineffective.

“Eighteen years of desegregation have failed to improve educational opportunity and have driven out both white and black middle class,’' he said.

Under the entrepreneurial system, teacher tenure would be abolished. “Principals are obliged to accept personnel rules that would quickly drive a private-sector organization out of business,’' the report charges.

The report has garnered mixed reactions from school officials. Superintendent Lois Harrison-Jones applauded some recommendations, including a proposal to decentralize accountability and resources, a step she says has been implemented during her tenure.

But, she added, “We do see limits to the free-market metaphors that drive the [report] and often fail to capture the reality of our mission.’'

A federal judge in Philadelphia has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to require the makers of lead pigments for paints to pay for the cost of removing lead paint from the city’s public housing.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia by the city of Philadelphia and its housing authority, charged that five lead-paint-pigment manufacturers and the Lead Industries Association, an industry trade group, should be financially responsible for the costs of testing for and removing lead from public-housing units.

When it begins to flake, lead paint can be ingested by children and can cause neurological damage, lead experts say.

Judge James T. Giles said, however, that the plaintiffs, even if they could prove that the pigment manufacturers were responsible, would not be eligible for damage payments under state law, according to Alan Chute, a lawyer for the Sherwin-Williams Company, one of the defendants in the case.

Two new members were elected this month to seats on the Dallas Independent School District board of trustees from newly configured electoral districts.

Sandy Kress, a Dallas lawyer, was elected to a seat vacated by an incumbent who chose not to run again, while Rebecca B. Bergstresser, a civic volunteer, defeated another trustee, C. Darrow Hooper.

All nine trustees were up for election, and the other incumbents were re-elected. Voter turnout was sparse, officials said.

Both of the new members are strong supporters of reform recommendations that were made by the Commission for Educational Excellence, a committee appointed by the trustees, who later endorsed its conclusions.

A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 1992 edition of Education Week as District News Roundup