News in Brief: A National Roundup

November 15, 2000 6 min read

Ga. Teacher Groups Fight Over Records

Two teachers’ groups in Georgia have gone to court to block the release of information about their members, following an investigation by the state’s largest daily newspaper.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution helped spark the dispute by seeking personnel-related data from state and local education officials for a reporting project examining school bus drivers with records of driving infractions. The data the paper received included the names, home addresses, phone numbers, and Social Security numbers of school employees.

Worried that the release of teachers’ Social Security numbers could make the educators targets of consumer fraud, the Georgia Association of Educators this month sought an injunction in Fulton County Superior Court to bar the state from releasing the numbers in the future.

The GAE, an affiliate of the National Education Association, has also said it might seek to force the Journal-Constitution to return data to the state and to expunge the Social Security numbers from the paper’s records.

Meanwhile, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, an independent group known as PAGE, filed a complaint with the superior court in Fayette County seeking to keep the school district there from releasing teachers’ contact information to the GAE.

Although GAE officials say they gather such information for recruitment purposes, they say they do not seek teachers’ Social Security numbers. A hearing was scheduled for this week on the PAGE complaint. A decision on the GAE’s complaint against the state is pending a detailed review by the Georgia attorney general’s office, GAE officials said.

—Jeff Archer

Report Faults N.Y. Urban Teachers

Teachers in urban districts in New York state are more likely than their nonurban counterparts to have graduated from less competitive colleges and universities and more likely to have failed state teacher-licensing exams, says a report by researchers at the State University of New York at Albany.

Given that many poor Hispanic and African-American students live in urban communities, such students are most often the recipients of lesser-quality instruction, it says.

The study, released last month, examined characteristics of 600,000 teachers and aimed to track their careers between 1969 and 1999.

Teachers who begin their careers in New York City were more likely to leave the public school system than their colleagues in other regions of the state, it found. They were also paid about 25 percent less annually over the three decades examined.

Teachers who transferred out of the district, or left the public school system altogether, were generally of a higher caliber than those who stayed, the study found.

—Julie Blair

General Tapped as Schools Chief

The members of the Cobb County, Ga., board of education, who oversee a 96,000-student suburban district north of Atlanta, are hoping that residents agree with their decision to appoint a retired U.S. Air Force general as the new superintendent.

Lt. General Joseph J. Redden, 57, who retired last year after 35 years in the Air Force, is the finalist for the job, but he won’t be officially named until Dec. 1, the end of a 14-day comment period, as required by law.

In the course of a military career that included combat service in the Vietnam War, Gen. Redden served as the commandant of cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Board members said in a statement that he would bring expertise in technology and strategic planning to the district, and that he “can properly focus the resources of the school district on raising all students to grade level and pushing students who excel to higher levels of performance.”

However, local members of the Georgia Association of Educators, an affiliate of the National Education Association, say they are concerned about the general’s lack of experience in education. Several other districts, including Seattle and Washington, have earlier tapped retired generals as superintendents.

—Linda Jacobson

14 Hurt in Utah Lab Mishap

Thirteen students and one teacher suffered injuries after a science experiment went awry in a Utah junior high school.

A glass jar exploded during a teacher’s Nov. 2 demonstration of how methanol evaporates into water after it burns. The explosion shattered the jug used in the experiment, sending shards of glass through the classroom at the South Cache Center in Hyrum.

The students sustained injuries ranging from “minor abrasions” to “very serious lacerations” in the incident, said Chad E. Downs, the deputy superintendent of the Cache County district, a 13,200-student system near the Utah-Idaho border. All of the victims returned to school by Nov. 6.

Mr. Downs said the district has hired a team of scientists to determine the cause of the blast. The scientists are looking at the chemical makeup of the methanol, the strength of the glass jar, and the quality of other materials used to conduct experiment, he said.

—David J. Hoff

Boy Convicted of Killing Teacher

A 15- year-old Denver boy was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in Denver District Court this month for beating a middle school teacher to death earlier this year while attempting to steal her car.

According to the Denver district attorney’s office, Lorenzo Montoya, then 14, went to the teacher’s house with two other teenagers on New Year’s Day to steal the keys to her Lexus.

When Emily Johnson, 29, a special education teacher at Skinner Middle School, refused to give them her car keys, Mr. Montoya and the two other teenagers hit her with the butt of a gun, dragged her outside, and beat her with a rock, authorities said. Ms. Johnson died the following day.

The crime did not appear to be related to her job as a teacher, the district attorney’s office said, but one of the teenagers accused in the slaying, 16-year-old Nicholas Martinez, had attended the school.

Mr. Montoya, who was convicted of first-degree felony murder, was also convicted of aggravated robbery and first- degree burglary. Mr. Martinez is scheduled to stand trial on murder and other charges in February.

—Jessica Portner

L.A. Mayor Eyes School Job

He doesn’t have a contract yet, but Mayor Richard J. Riordan of Los Angeles could be headed for a job with the Los Angeles Unified School District after his term ends next July.

Mr. Riordan, who is prohibited by law from seeking a third term, revealed in a recent speech that he had talked to Los Angeles schools Superintendent Roy Romer about possibly heading the district’s classroom-computers program.

“There’s nothing concrete or a starting date,” said Peter Hidalgo, a spokesman for the mayor. “There’s no done deal, but this is a conversation they’ve had.”

Mayor Riordan, a Republican, made school reform a theme of his successful 1997 re-election bid. Two years later, he helped elect four of the seven current school board members.

—Robert C. Johnston

Ky. Hackers Face Expulsion

Two students in Lexington, Ky., face expulsion after hacking into teachers’ workstations and temporarily disabling computers throughout Lafayette High School.

The sophomores received 10-day suspensions after sending a computer virus to teachers’ computers earlier this month, causing the network to shut down for about 30 minutes. All data processing programs that were open at the time were erased, but no student information was lost, according to Mike McKenzie, the principal of the 1,800- student school.

Mr. McKenzie has asked administrators of the Fayette County schools to expel the students. Though some parents have complained that Mr. McKenzie overreacted to the incident, which caused no long-lasting problems, he defended the punishments.

“Once you get into teacher workstations, there really isn’t a gray area,” Mr. McKenzie said last week. “It needs to be clearly understood that that is totally, 100 percent off limits.”

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2000 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup