News in Brief

September 04, 1996 9 min read

The judges also rejected the argument that the requirement violated the 13th Amendment’s ban on involuntary servitude--adopted to end slavery. “The community-service requirement is in no way comparable to the horrible injustice of human slavery,” the court said in its opinion.

Hulond Humphries, the former Alabama high school principal who set off a furor with his proposed ban on racially mixed prom couples, has been virtually guaranteed the position of superintendent of the same district that relieved him of his duties. Humphries won 57 percent of the vote in the final Democratic primary for the superintendency of the 2,400-student Randolph County school district. He does not have a Republican challenger in the November election. Humphries’ inflammatory comments to a student on racial mixing brought national attention to the town of Wedowee two years ago. The U.S. Department of Justice, which investigated the incident, eventually forced the local school board to remove him from his job as principal of Randolph County High School. The primary vote came as a shock to some blacks in the community. “I think a lot is attributable to the fact that the African-American population didn’t turn out as much as they could have and should have,” said school board member Charlotte Clark-Frieson, a vocal opponent of Humphries and president of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Calculating Move

Beginning this fall, students who take the American College Testing program’s mathematics exam can use calculators. Testing experts with the program say allowing calculators will not diminish the ACT’s ability to test students’ mathematical reasoning, according to Richard Ferguson, president of the company. Ferguson said that the common use of calculators in U.S. classrooms was also a factor in the decision. The ACT, based in Iowa City, Iowa, administers a college-entrance exam taken by about 60 percent of entering freshmen across the country. The four-part assessment measures development in reading, English, math, and science reasoning. The Scholastic Assessment Test--or SAT--has allowed test-takers to use calculators since 1994.

Doobious Lesson

Elementary school officials in Simpsonville, Kentucky, recently rewrote district rules on school visitors after movie star Woody Harrelson extolled the virtues of hemp to a class of 5th graders. Harrelson, who was invited by a 5th grade teacher, showed up with several hemp farmers from countries where hemp is a legal crop grown for the tough fibers in its stem. He explained to the class that hemp is used in clothing, horse bedding, and other products. Its leaves and flowers also can be dried and smoked as a drug. “Kids were probably enthralled by seeing a star, but Mr. Harrelson’s advocating something that’s against the law,” said Leon Mooneyhan, superintendent of the Louisville-area district. Under Kentucky law, Mooneyhan said, there is no difference between hemp and marijuana. Parents, he added, should have been given the right to exempt their children from class that day. From now on, school principals must be notified at least two days before any outside speaker addresses a class.

Second Chance

A record number of adults earned General Educational Development credentials in 1995, administrators of the GED test report. The exam, run by the GED Testing Service of the Washington, D.C.-based American Council on Education, gives adults who have not completed high school an opportunity to earn a high school credential and pursue higher education. More than half of the 724,000 adults who took the test last year passed.

Short On Taste

A North Dakota school district has voted to drop the name “Midgets” from its athletic teams because of concerns that it was offensive. Students and residents in the 3,000-student Dickinson district will have a say in choosing a new name, following the local school board’s 4-1 vote in July. Superintendent C.B. Haas said he will invite community members to pick a name that will signify “dignity, intelligence, and strength.” The nickname dated from the early 1900s, when the southwest North Dakota town fielded a basketball team of unusually short athletes. The name had become increasingly controversial. The term “speaks of a class of people who are not fond of having that name used to describe themselves,” said board member Diane Melbye, who voted for the change.

Catholic School Tax

The Boston Archdiocese has begun taxing local Roman Catholic parishes that do not run schools to help support those that do. Cardinal Bernard Law, the Boston archbishop, imposed the new 6 percent tax on the parishes’ Sunday collections to ease the financial burden on parishes that provide a Catholic education. “As the cardinal said, our obligation to teach goes beyond the parish borders,” said David Smith, director of finance for the archdiocese. Smith estimated the tax on the approximately 260 parishes without schools will generate an additional $1 million annually to help the 135 parishes with schools.

Out Of Gas

The Florida law that revoked driver’s licenses of school dropouts ran out of gas this summer, expiring after six years. The law--one of many driver’s license restrictions passed in an effort to encourage teenagers to stay in school--applied to teens ages 18 and younger. But a “sunset provision” automatically erased the law from the books this year when lawmakers failed to vote to keep it. The legislature did not take action because leaders felt the policy had become ineffective. Supporters speculated the dropout measure might have been more effective had it not been rewritten in 1993 so that teenagers who were enrolled could get licenses even if they did not attend school regularly.

Name Game

A federal district judge has ordered a California school system to suspend its policy of barring speakers from publicly identifying school employees at school board meetings. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint in July against the 31,000-student Moreno Valley district after a parent referred by name to a school principal and the superintendent while voicing her concerns about racial tensions in a middle school. After warning her not to use officials’ names, board members ordered a sheriff’s deputy to remove the parent from the meeting. The ACLU took up the parent’s cause, arguing that the board’s policy violates state and federal free-speech and equal-protection guarantees. Superintendent David Andrews said the policy protects school employees and the public from slanderous public statements. The judge issued a temporary restraining order that likely will remain in effect until the case is decided.

Goals 2000 Flap

An Alabama state senator has sued Governor Fob James Jr. and the state school board for refusing to apply for federal funds under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. Senator Edward “E.B.” McClain, a Democrat from Brighton, is asking a state court to allow individual school districts to apply directly to the U.S. Department of Education for Goals 2000 money. McClain is also asking that the state board reimburse school districts for the more than $6 million Alabama has forfeited to date. “It’s absolutely wrong to not allow the school districts to apply directly,” McClain said. Every state except Alabama and Virginia has either applied for Goals 2000 money or pledged to allow districts to apply. Most districts receive grant payments through the state. The money comes in exchange for school-improvement plans that include challenging academic and student-performance standards. Goals 2000 has been the centerpiece of President Clinton’s school-reform strategy. James, a Republican, and the GOP-dominated state board maintain that Goals 2000 represents federal intrusion into the state’s education system.

Teacher Dismissal

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in June that lower courts in the state should give greater consideration to local school board decisions in reviewing teacher-dismissal cases. The decision was the first by the Colorado high court to interpret a 1990 state law on the firing of teachers. The case concerns efforts by the Adams County-Westminster school district to fire Jan Heimer for alleged deficiencies in her teaching and classroom management. A hearing officer found legal grounds for firing Heimer but recommended that she be retained. The school board dismissed the teacher anyway, citing insubordination and neglect of duty. In reviewing that decision, a state appeals court deferred to the hearing officer’s findings and ordered the teacher reinstated. The state high court ruled that when the actions of a hearing officer and a school board conflict, appeals courts should overrule the school board only when its decision was “arbitrary, capricious, or legally impermissible.” It sent Heimer’s case back to the appeals court.

Desegregation Ordered in Hartford

Milo Sheff was a 4th grade student at Annie Fisher Elementary School in Hartford, Connecticut, when his parents and several others sued the state over extreme racial imbalances between the city schools and surrounding suburban districts. In July, just weeks before Milo (pictured with his mother, Elizabeth Horton-Scheff) began his senior year, a divided Connecticut Supreme Court ordered state officials to desegregate the Hartford schools. In deciding the case that bears Milo’s name, the court ruled that the state is responsible for reducing racial imbalances in its schools, regardless of what led the schools to become segregated. It was the first time in two decades that a state supreme court has ruled against de facto segregation--unintentional isolation caused by housing trends and town boundaries. The decision could revive efforts elsewhere to address persistent racial segregation. “It’s not just important for what’s happening in Hartford,” said Harvard University desegregation expert Gary Orfield. “It’s important for the discussion that is not happening in the country.”

Service, Not Slavery

Three federal appeals courts have now reviewed school district community-service requirements, and all three have rejected constitutional challenges from students and their parents.

In the latest case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City, North Carolina, district’s requirement that high school students complete 50 hours of community service before graduation. Several students and parents challenged the requirement, arguing that it interfered with the parents’ right to direct their children’s upbringing and with the students’ right to due process of law. In a unanimous ruling in July, a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit rejected those arguments.

The judges also rejected the argument that the requirement violated the 13th Amendment’s ban on involuntary servitude--adopted to end slavery. “The community-service requirement is in no way comparable to the horrible injustice of human slavery,” the court said in its opinion.

Appellate courts for the 2nd and 3rd Circuits have also rejected 13th Amendment challenges to service requirements. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the 3rd Circuit’s ruling, while an appeal of the 2nd Circuit ruling is pending at the high court.

Scott Bullock, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based legal organization that organized the challenge to the North Carolina district’s service requirement, said the panel’s ruling would be appealed to the full 4th Circuit court and, if necessary, to the Supreme Court.

A version of this article appeared in the September 01, 1996 edition of Teacher