District News Roundup

November 18, 1992 8 min read
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A federal judge has allowed the Dallas Independent School District to scale back plans for a “supermagnet’’ school proposed as part of its court-ordered desegregation plan.

U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders this month said he would allow the district to build a $29.9 million version of the Townview Magnet School, rather than the $44 million facility it had first proposed in the early 1980’s.

In rendering his decision, Judge Sanders said he understood the frustration of black parents who had been waiting several years for the construction of what they thought would be a bigger facility.

However, Judge Sanders said, local voters appear unlikely to approve a tax increase of the size needed to fund construction of the larger facility. Scaling down the construction plans, he said, appears to be the only way to insure that the bond will get voter approval and thus provide funding for Townview and other desegregation efforts.

“There must be no further delay’’ in building the new school, the judge said.

Judge Sanders’s ruling said the new “supermagnet’’ must house six separate middle schools and be ready for occupancy in the 1995-96 school year.

Eliot Wigginton, the founder of the Foxfire language-arts program, pleaded guilty to a charge of child molestation last week and was sentenced to a year in jail.

Mr. Wigginton was indicted in September after a 4th-grade boy from the Athens, Ga., public schools alleged that the educator had undressed him and fondled him during an overnight trip to a Foxfire event last May.

Early in October, in the wake of further allegations that he had molested at least two dozen other students between 1967 and 1988, the nationally known educator and author resigned his teaching post at the University of Georgia in Athens. Mr. Wigginton had also resigned his position as chairman of the board of directors of the Foxfire Fund, the nonprofit corporation that administers Foxfire’s educational and publishing activities, in September.

Until last week, Mr. Wigginton had denied all of the charges.

In a statement released last week, James K. Hasson Jr., the new chairman of the Foxfire Fund, said Mr. Wigginton’s actions “require his total separation’’ from the future work of the Foxfire Fund.

“All of us connected with Foxfire are shocked and profoundly saddened by this unexpected development,’' Mr. Hasson said in the statement. “It is exceptionally difficult for us to reconcile the visible accomplishments of Mr. Wigginton in the classroom with the hidden wrongdoing he has now admitted.’'

“Our hearts go out to all of those who have been affected by this tragedy,’'the statement says.

Rabun County Superior Court Judge Robert Struble sentenced the former national teacher of the year to 20 years in jail, with one to serve and the rest on probation. He also ordered Mr. Wigginton to pay a $10,000 fine, to undergo mental-health treatment, and to provide such treatment for the boy.

The judge also barred him from teaching or having contact with children under age 18 for the next 20 years.

The Fairfax County, Va., school board has moved to ban the verbal abuse of students on “matters pertaining to sexuality.’'

The board earlier had proposed banning verbal abuse based on “sexual preference,’' but it reconsidered that wording after local residents complained that such a policy condoned homosexuality.

Over the protests of students, teachers, and the gay-rights group Queer Nation, which had applauded the ban’s original wording, the board voted unanimously this month to change the wording of the new regulation.

Board members asserted that the revised ban would continue to protect gay and lesbian students, but also would protect other students from abuse because of their sexual characteristics.

A spokeswoman for the district said the board wanted to make sure that its regulation would address recent reports that intermediate-school students were being sexually harassed by their schoolmates.

The new ban also prohibits verbal abuse or harassment based on race, religion, gender, intellectual ability, and certain other characteristics.

The Milwaukee school board, at the urging of Superintendent Howard L. Fuller, has rebuffed a plan for funding public school maintenance proposed by the city’s Mayor.

The board instead voted unanimously this month to approve Mr. Fuller’s own proposal, which differs from Mayor John Q. Norquist’s in that it requires voter approval.

The superintendent’s plan calls for $474 million to be spent on school maintenance, the construction of a new technical high school, and other measures such as the reallocation of existing space to reduce class size. It would be funded largely through $366 million in long-term bonds that voters will be asked to authorize in a referendum next February.

Mayor Norquist had said his own $184 million facilities plan, announced late last month, would bypass the need for a referendum by allowing most of the borrowing for school maintenance to be done by the city, which does not need to take major borrowing proposals directly to taxpayers.

Mr. Fuller called the Mayor’s plan “a belated, inconsistent, and unwise suggestion to circumvent the statutory referendum process’’ and said it disregarded citizen recommendations that the district had worked for months to gather.

The superintendent also charged that the Mayor’s plan appears to be part of “a clear, unprecedented, and highly undesirable effort to take over responsibility for running Milwaukee public schools.’'

A high school senior in Bloomingdale, Mich., has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to force his school to remove a painting of Jesus from a school hallway.

Eric Pensinger, 17, and his mother sued the Bloomingdale board of education and the school, charging that it is “highly offensive and disturbing’’ for the student to “attend a public school which is openly endorsing and promoting a religion.’'

The painting, a gift to the school, has hung alongside photographs of school athletes in the hall for some 30 years, school officials said.

Mr. Pensinger is being represented by Susan Fall, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, who said that the school’s display of religious art violates both the state and U.S. constitutions.

The district has asked a legal center founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson to help it respond to the suit.

The school board is scheduled to discuss the suit later this month.

A California-based software company that guarantees its products will improve student achievement has signed a $4 million contract to provide computer-based instructional systems to the for-profit company that is managing nine Baltimore public schools.

The contract between Education Alternatives Inc., which has a five-year, $140 million contract to operate nine Baltimore schools, and the Computer Curriculum Corporation, a division of the Paramount Communications Company, to install the integrated-learning systems was announced at a press conference last week.

The multimedia systems will be used to teach reading, language arts, mathematics, and science, officials of the software company said.

“We’re taking one of the major school districts in the nation, and we’re going into some of the worst of the schools, and we believe that we can make a significant difference in a short period of time,’' said Keith Schaefer, the software firm’s chief executive officer.

The firm will waive the fees charged to Education Alternatives for any student who fails to meet the program’s goals, he added.

The computer systems, which will include 1,100 workstations, are expected to be installed and in operation by January, Mr. Schaefer added.

A Kentucky man has pleaded guilty to sending threatening letters to his daughter’s school in an attempt to influence her to quit the cheerleading team.

Bennie Lee Doan of Cynthiana pleaded guilty in federal court this month to mailing anonymous death threats against his daughter, Jennie. The letters were sent to the principal of Harrison High School, the cheerleading coach, the parents of Mr. Doan’s wife, and to the Doan household itself.

Mr. Doan told a federal judge that he never meant to harm his daughter, but that he wanted her off the team because he could not afford the $200 for such expenses as a uniform and cheerleading camp.

The letters, all signed “Trigger Happy,’' threatened violence if Ms. Doan was not removed from the team. The letter Mr. Doan admitted sending to himself referred to the widely publicized case of a Texas woman who plotted to have the mother of her daughter’s cheerleading rival killed.

Because of the threats, school officials canceled all homecoming events except for the football game, which was played without the cheerleading team. Superintendent Roy Woodward noted that Ms. Doan remains on the team.

“We don’t want to penalize her for what’s happened,’' Mr. Woodward said.

Mr. Doan faces a maximum of five years in prison for violating federal mail laws.

An increase in crimes committed by minors in Toledo, Ohio, led voters this month to approve a measure establishing a curfew on children under the age of 18.

The curfew, which will take effect Dec. 4, will bar unaccompanied children under the age of 12 from city streets between 10 P.M. and 5 A.M. For children ages 12 to 15, the curfew applies from 11 P.M. to 5 A.M., and for 16- and 17-year-olds from midnight to 5 A.M.

First offenders will be issued a warning, and their parents will be telephoned. On the second offense, the minor and his parents could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $100. Minors who violate the curfew and who have a previous conviction could be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which carries a 30-day jail sentence and a fine of $250.

The law, which was approved by 55 percent of the voters Nov. 3, will not affect youngsters who are returning home from school activities, jobs, or entertainment, officials said.

Police officials fear that the measure will not be successful, because of a shortage of police officers in the city.

The Cleveland school district has applied for a state emergency loan of $32 million, the most it can get without being placed under state receivership.

William E. Aldridge, the new treasurer for the district, said it needed the loan to avoid running out of money by February and to help cope with a deficit projected at $76 million by the end of June.

As part of the loan application, which the state controlling board is expected to consider next month, Mr. Aldridge was required to pinpoint budget cuts that equal the amount borrowed over the term of the loan.

A version of this article appeared in the November 18, 1992 edition of Education Week as District News Roundup


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