District News Roundup

June 03, 1992 5 min read

The Quincy, Mass., school committee has voted to allow prayers at the graduation ceremonies this month of its two high schools, defying a ruling against such prayers by the federal appellate court whose jurisdiction includes Massachusetts.

The school committee voted 6 to 1 on May 13 to allow the prayers at graduation ceremonies of Quincy and North Quincy high schools. The committee voted 7 to 0 to allow such prayers at its junior college’s commencement.

Last year, the Quincy committee voted to suspend allowing graduation prayers after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled in a Rhode Island case that graduation prayer at public schools violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban against government establishment of religion. The First Circuit court’s rulings are binding in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico.

Three Quincy school-committee members who voted to suspend the prayers last year are no longer on the panel.

The Quincy board’s action symbolizes the ongoing discord over the graduation-prayer issue. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the Rhode Island prayer case last November, and the Justices could issue their ruling any time before early July.

A stalemate over busing contracts that left 7,500 handicapped preschoolers in New York City without transportation to class for three weeks ended last week in a compromise between the state and the city’s board of education.

The impasse began April 30, when contracts for private bus companies expired, leaving thousands of children who have mental, physical, or emotional handicaps with no transportation to the city’s 138 special-education programs. Before bus service resumed in late May, attendance at special preschool programs was down approximately 80 percent, school officials said.

State legislators refused to allow the contract to be renewed, charging that the city had ignored a 1986 state law requiring them to allocate contracts on a competitive basis. The city has paid for busing service without state funds since 1989 at a cost of $42 million a year.

The deadlock ended last week when both houses of the state legislature passed a bill exempting the city from compliance with the competitive-bidding law retroactive to 1989 and through April 1995. Under the bill, the city also gains $25 million and a 50 percent state reimbursement for transportation of handicapped children through June 30, 1995, whether or not the city chooses to put the contracts out for bid. The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo.

More than a dozen Beloit, Wis., girls who were sexually assaulted by a male student at school have sued the school district and the city of Beloit, claiming negligence, according to the girls’ lawyer.

The suit on behalf of the 14 girls, who are all about 14 years old, was filed last month in Rock County Circuit Court, according to the lawyer, who did not want to be named.

However, a lawyer for the school district said last week that he believed the suit had not yet been served on the district.

The male assailant, who was 14 at the time of the incidents, was found delinquent on 23 juvenile counts, including second-degree sexual assault, battery, and disorderly conduct, said Ann Sitrick, a district spokesman.

He was ordered to serve two years in the Ethan Allen Home for Boys, the girls lawyer said.

The incidents occurred between January 1990 and April 1991 at McNeel Junior High School and Morgan Elementary School in Beloit, Ms. Sitrick said.

Earlier this year, a federal judge dismissed another civil action brought by the girls seeking $4.8 million in damages, their lawyer said. Each had asked for $300,000 in compensatory damages, and their parents had asked for an undetermined amount of compensation for any necessary physical or psychological treatment for their daughters, the lawyer said.

That civil-rights suit alleged the district “had not taken appropriate action to prevent sexual assault,’' Ms. Sitrick said.

California officials have appointed an administrator to supervise the Coachella Valley Unified School District after approving a recent $7.3-million emergency loan to the financially troubled school system.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig appointed Andy Viscovich as the state administrator after the position drew 40 applicants. The state will assume all legal powers of the local school board, which will serve in an advisory capacity to Mr. Viscovich.

The loan, needed to balance the district’s $37-million budget, must be repaid after 10 years. Mr. Honig said he has been encouraged by the district’s initial steps toward solvency, and he expressed confidence that Mr. Viscovich, a former superintendent, will implement a sound recovery plan.

School officials in Dallas are weighing changes in their procedures for conducting background checks of employees in the wake of a newspaper investigation showing that 85 current district employees have criminal records, one of them for murder.

The Dallas Morning News conducted the investigation by comparing Dallas County criminal records against the names of the district’s 16,000 employees.

The newspaper found that the 85 employees, who are classified workers and a few teachers’ aides, were convicted felons or were on probation for committing a felony.

Of those who were convicted felons, charges ranged from aggravated assault to the falsification of food-stamp applications to drug offenses. One custodian who had worked for the district for three days had been indicted on a murder charge.

Robby Collins, the district’s director of government and internal relations, said that officials are considering the immediate firing of 47 of the employees who had either lied on their applications regarding previous convictions or who had committed a felony while employed by the district. Those employees who are on probation, which expunges any criminal record, will be reviewed “on a case-by-case basis,’' he said.

The district is considering semi-annual checks of school employees, using statewide criminal records, a procedure that must first be considered by the school board later this month.

A 1989 state law requiring criminal-records checks of teacher applicants did not cover the employees uncovered by the investigation.

All AIDS-education materials used in New York City’s public schools must place a greater emphasis on abstinence than on condoms, the board of education voted last week.

At issue was a popular 1987 video, “AIDS: Just Say No,’' featuring the actress Rae Dawn Chong, and a pamphlet distributed by the city’s health department. The resolution, passed on a 4-to-3 vote, bans these frank materials from use in the classroom.

According to the resolution, all outside organizations and individuals taking part in the district’s AIDS-education program must sign a statement saying they will provide only materials and lessons that state that abstinence is the most effective means of avoiding the virus that causes AIDS.

More time must be devoted to abstinence than protected sex, the resolution says.

A version of this article appeared in the June 03, 1992 edition of Education Week as District News Roundup