News in Brief

October 15, 2003 7 min read
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Minneapolis Administrator Bows Out of Top School Job

Under pressure from several local groups, David M. Jennings, the interim superintendent of the 48,000-student Minneapolis public schools, said last week he would not serve as superintendent.

Mr. Jennings, the district’s chief operating officer, was appointed to the post by the school board to replace Carol Johnson, who left the school system last month. (“Minneapolis Board Elevates Executive to Superintendent,” News in Brief, Oct. 1, 2003.)

His decision came on the heels of a lawsuit filed Oct. 6 by six area civil rights, religious, and political groups seeking to overturn the appointment of Mr. Jennings and open the position to a nationwide search with community input. The groups contended that Mr. Jennings lacked the certification needed to serve as a school administrator. According to the district, however, he had been granted a temporary waiver of the state certification law and was preparing to seek a permanent waiver.

Judge Mary Steenson Defresne of the state district court in Hennepin County approved the district’s motion to move the case to federal court on Oct. 8. The same day, Mr. Jennings held a press conference to announce his decision to withdraw, saying that the controversy was distracting him and the school board from serving the district.

Mr. Jennings will continue to act as interim superintendent until the district chooses a new leader. District officials have not announced any plans for a search, nor had it been decided last week whether he will return to his post as chief operating officer after a new superintendent is hired.

—Catherine A. Carroll

Judge Upholds Student’s Right To Wear Anti-Bush T-Shirt

A Michigan student who was barred from wearing a T-shirt critical of President Bush must be allowed to wear the shirt to school, a federal judge has ruled. (“Principals Walk Fine Line on Free Speech,” March 19, 2003.)

U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Duggan granted a preliminary injunction on Oct. 1 in a lawsuit filed by Bretton H. Barber, now a senior at Dearborn High School. Administrators last winter told Mr. Barber either to remove the black T-shirt, which featured Mr. Bush’s picture and the words “international terrorist,” turn it inside out, or go home.

Mr. Barber, who was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that the 17,600-student Dearborn public schools had violated his First Amendment rights.

In his opinion, Judge Duggan said “there is no evidence that the T-shirt created any disturbance or disruption” in the school. He also rejected the district’s argument that the school was an inappropriate place for political debate.

John B. Artis, the superintendent, said he was not displeased with the ruling because it was clear the judge understood the facts of the case.

—Ann Bradley

Phila. Parents to Receive Marks For ‘Home Support’ of Students

When public school parents in Philadelphia receive report cards in December, they’ll be getting more than just information about their children’s performance.

For the first time, those progress reports will assess how well parents are providing the support that their children need to do well in school.

Parents will receive “satisfactory” or “needs attention” marks on such indicators as whether the child appears rested, whether he or she is getting proper medical attention, and whether the child is completing homework assignments.

Paul G. Vallas, the district’s chief executive officer, is calling the “home support” feature—which will be used in kindergarten through 8th grade—a “checklist of gentle reminders” that he hopes will be helpful to parents. Mr. Vallas introduced a similar plan in Chicago in 2000, when he was the chief executive officer of that city’s schools.

The report card was approved by the 204,000-student district’s School Reform Commission last month and crafted with the input of the district’s home and school council, an umbrella group of local school-parent organizations.

—Linda Jacobson

D.C. Agencies Undertake School Readiness Project

The National Black Child Development Institute has received a $4 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to lead a new school readiness initiative in the District of Columbia that will focus on fostering partnerships between schools and early-childhood organizations.

Several city agencies—including the public schools, the health department, and the parks and recreation department—will be involved in the project, which is expected to reach hundreds of children in the poorest neighborhoods. City officials, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams and schools Superintendent Paul Vance, attended a press conference last week to launch the project.

Washington is one of eight sites throughout the country chosen for the initiative, which is called Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids, or SPARK. In all, the Battle Creek, Mich.-based foundation will spend $32 million over five years on the project.

“In the end, we expect measurable progress in the future alignment and coordination between early care providers, public schools, and working parents,” Andrea Young, the director of SPARK D.C., said in a press release.

—Linda Jacobson

Ariz. District Votes to Fire Principal Accused of Altering Test Scores

An Arizona school district has moved to fire a popular elementary school principal over allegations that she altered test scores to get performance pay for teachers.

The Scottsdale Unified School District board voted 4-1 on Oct. 2 to begin the employment-termination process for Sequoya Elementary School Principal Maureen Booth. The decision was based on an investigative report presented by Barbara Erwin, the superintendent of the 27,000-student district.

The district’s statement of charges alleges that Ms. Booth “violated district policies on a number of occasions, and then misled district officials during their investigation of her conduct.” Other charges include falsifying attendance records and improperly responding to employee misconduct.

Ms. Booth, who is on paid administrative leave, will appeal the charges within the next 30 days, said William Hobson, her lawyer.

“She has always denied that she ever changed [the scores],” he said. Ms. Booth also passed a lie detector test when questioned about the test scores, Mr. Hobson said.

Following the board’s decision, Superintendent Erwin requested an internal audit of all district schools, focusing on test scores, student enrollment, and rental contracts.

—Olivia Doherty

D.C. School Closes for Cleanup Of Mercury Spill

The spill occurred on Oct. 2, when a student admittedly took about 250 milliliters, or half a cup, of mercury from an unlocked science lab.

The student and his family have been removed from their house, where high levels of mercury were found, and health officials began cleanup efforts there last week, according to news reports. Mercury was also found on one city bus a student from the high school rode after handling the substance. That bus was taken off the streets and cleaned.

Most of the students, teachers, and support personnel from the 1,300-student school had received screening for mercury poisoning as of the end of last week, according to Prenell Neely, a spokeswoman for the 67,500-student District of Columbia schools.

The teacher responsible for leaving the mercury in an insecure location has been placed on administrative leave, according to news reports.

Mercury was found in at least three different locations in the building after students played with the toxic substance, Ms. Neely said.

Classes are being held in alternative locations, including the former Washington Convention Center, until the cleanup is complete—a process that could take up to a month, Ms. Neely said.

—Michelle Galley


Neil Postman, an author and media scholar well known for criticizing the television era for subverting education and children’s intellectual development, died on Oct. 4 in New York City. He was 72.

Mr. Postman served as a professor for 39 years at New York University, specializing in “media ecology,” a program he founded in 1971. He was also the chairman of the university’s department of culture and communication from 1971 until last year.

During his career, Mr. Postman wrote 20 books, including The Disappearance of Childhood (1982), which described the media-filled American culture as making adults out of children too quickly by providing easy access to a world of information.

In another popular work, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985), he faulted the television industry for corrupting public arenas such as education and politics by creating the demand for entertainment. He accused “Sesame Street” of undermining real-life classroom learning.

Mr. Postman was a native and resident of New York City.

—Olivia Doherty


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