News in Brief

October 29, 2003 7 min read
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Wash. District Teachers Vote To Start School

The longest teachers’ strike in Washington state’s history ended last week, when a judge ordered Marysville educators back to work after 50 days on the picket line.

Striking teachers voted overwhelmingly to return to school after the directive from Superior Court Judge Linda Krese, said Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Marysville Education Association, a 660-member affiliate of the National Education Association. Teachers in the Seattle suburb who refused could have been fined. (“In Marysville, Wash., Strike Has Closed Schools So Far,” Oct. 22, 2003.)

“The fact remains that they still don’t have a contract,” Mr. Wood said, adding that “teachers are stronger and more united than they’ve ever been.”

Teachers are fighting a new state salary schedule and wanted a 7.5 pay increase over a three-year contract, among other objectives. The school board endorses the new salary format and contends it does not have the money for the raises.

“They want a 7.5 percent increase when many here don’t even have jobs,” said Judy Parker, a spokeswoman for the 11,000-student district.

Because the school year did not start until last week, students will be required to attend into the summer, she said, though no school calendar has yet been set.

—Julie Blair

Lawrence Superintendent Passes Mass. Licensure Test on 4th Try

Wilfredo T. Laboy, the superintendent of the Lawrence, Mass., public schools who drew national attention for failing to pass a state educator-licensure test, has passed on his fourth try.

Mr. Laboy was criticized by his peers and commentators in the media when he put 12 teachers on leave for failing the Oral Proficiency Index, which measures the English proficiency of educators for whom English is a second language. At the time, he had already taken and failed the test at least once.

The superintendent, who is from Puerto Rico, took the writing-mechanics section of the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure again on Sept. 13. He found out last week that he had garnered a perfect score on that section, which was the only one he had not passed his first three times around.

Although he has been a certified educator and administrator in New York state since 1991, he was required to take the test to become licensed in Massachusetts when he joined the 13,000-student district as its superintendent in July 2000.

The Massachusetts state board of education was prepared to open the superintendent’s position up to other candidates had Mr. Laboy not passed the tests by Dec. 31.

—Catherine A. Carroll

Federal Grants to Publicize Parents’ School Choice Options

Three national organizations will share $1.3 million in federal grants to inform parents about the education options available under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The Black Alliance for Educational Options, or BAEO; the Hispanic Council for Reform and Education Options, or CREO; and the Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation will use the grants from the U.S. Department of Education to expand or develop public-information campaigns. The marketing efforts will cover public school choice, charter schools, and free tutoring.

Money for the grants comes from the department’s Fund for the Improvement of Education.

BAEO will focus its efforts in cities with large low-income black communities, including Dallas, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia. Hispanic CREO’s public-awareness campaign will focus on Austin, Texas; Camden, N.J.; Dallas; Miami; and San Antonio. Both BAEO and CREO are based in Washington.

The Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation, located in Indianapolis, will be able to bolster its efforts to reach parents in Denver and Gary, Ind. The foundation offers a toll-free number and Web site exploring parents’ options under the federal law.

—Karla Scoon Reid

U.S. Judge Rejects Teacher’s Lawsuit Over Federal Law

A federal judge in Kansas has dismissed the effort of a public school teacher to sue the U.S. government over the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The plaintiff, Brian K. Kegerreis, alleged that the federal law is unfair and unconstitutional because it seeks to hold only school personnel accountable if students at a given school do not achieve satisfactory test scores.

But the judge on Oct. 9 rejected the motion to hear the case, noting in part that the U.S. government is generally protected from such lawsuits unless it has expressly waived its sovereign immunity.

In addition, U.S. District Judge Kathryn H. Vratil said in the five-page decision, the “plaintiff’s alleged injury is hypothetical and depends on (1) the performance of students at his school on standardized tests over the next 11 years and (2) the Department of Education’s future choice of any remedy to be imposed as a result of student test scores.”

—Erik W. Robelen

Measure on Class-Size Panel Off November Ballot in N.Y.C

A referendum that could establish a commission to study possible limits on class size in New York City can’t go on the November ballot after all.

That was the ruling of the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court on Oct. 20. The United Federation of Teachers, the city teachers’ union that spearheaded the petition drive, vowed to appeal.

The decision reverses an Oct. 2 ruling by a trial-court judge, who found unconstitutional a state law allowing a proposal to establish a charter-revision commission to be bumped off the city ballot by mayorally sponsored measures that propose changing the city charter. (“Judge Backs Drive to Place Class-Size Issue on Ballot,” Oct. 15, 2003.)

Included on the Nov. 4 ballot will be three proposed revisions to the city charter, formulated by a charter-review commission appointed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Those proposals do not pertain to education.

The charter-revision commission proposed by the UFT-led coalition would set up a panel to study placing limits on class size in the 1.1 million-student school system. Plans to impose such caps could then be placed on a future ballot.

—Catherine Gewertz

Teenager Claims Pregnancy Led N.Y.C. School to Force Her Out

A 15-year-old student in New York City has filed suit against the school district, claiming she was illegally forced out of her high school because she is pregnant.

The girl has been readmitted to Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Manhattan, but her lawyers want the city to draft additional policies to prevent improper transfers.

“We want to make sure kids are not going be pushed out like this again,” said Elisa F. Hyman, one of the lawyers representing the teenager.

Advocates for Children, the nonprofit group that filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on Oct. 10, contends school officials tried to transfer the student without proper notification to her family or opportunity to respond.

The group filed the suit as a class action, arguing that numerous city students are being wrongly forced out of their schools for pregnancy and other reasons, including poor grades and attendance. Another class action, filed by the group in January, challenges what that suit contends was the improper expulsion of an English-language learner. (“Discharge of English-Learner at Issue in N.Y.C. Lawsuit,” News in Brief, Feb. 12, 2003.)

The city’s department of education issued a statement saying that Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein “has made clear that improperly discharging students is unacceptable, and the department has enacted a new policy to that end.”

—Catherine Gewertz


Louise Day Hicks, who became nationally known as a leader of the fight against Boston’s attempt to achieve racial integration in its public schools through busing, has died at age 87.

Mrs. Hicks, who died Oct. 21, was a lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Boston and served multiple terms on its City Council in the 1960s and ‘70s. She also served briefly in the U.S. House of Representatives in the early 1970s. But it was her tenure on Boston’s school board in the 1960s, including service as its chairwoman, that first brought her wide attention.

In the 1985 book Common Ground, which detailed Boston’s tumultuous struggle over school desegregation, author J. Anthony Lukas noted that Mrs. Hicks steadfastly refused to concede that the schools were segregated.

She denied charges that she was a racist, saying she viewed the world in colorblind terms, Mr. Lukas reported. Championing the cause of neighborhood schools, she attributed much of the integration fight to outside forces seeking to dictate to local residents how their schools should be run.

The cause of her death was not reported. Her sister-in-law told the Associated Press that Mrs. Hicks had been ill for some time.

—Catherine Gewertz


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