News in Brief: A National Roundup

April 30, 2003 5 min read
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National Technology Group To Promote Online Learning

A new organization to support the development of K-12 online learning, supported by two leading foundations with an interest in technology, made its debut last week.

The 17-member board of directors of the North American Council for Online Learning is made up of leaders of online schools or consortia and state education officials.

The council will provide “collegial expertise and leadership in K-12 online teaching and learning,” according to a statement released by the group.

Administrative support for the council will come from the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications, a Boulder, Colo.- based nonprofit membership group that encourages the use of educational telecommunications.

The start-up of the new group was funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

—Andrew Trotter

District Didn’t Violate Rights In Petition Dispute, Court Rules

A Pennsylvania school district did not violate a student’s First Amendment right of free speech when teachers told her to stop collecting signatures for a petition in opposition to a class field trip to the circus, a federal appeals court has ruled.

Amanda Walker-Serrano, a 3rd grader at Lackawanna Trail Elementary School in 1999, opposed the trip to the Shriner’s circus because she and her parents believed it was cruel to animals. Thirty classmates signed the petition, but Amanda’s teachers told her to put it away when she was gathering signatures during a class reading period and on the playground during recess.

Her parents sued the 1,400-student Lackawanna Trail district, as well as several school employees, in federal district court in Scranton, Pa., alleging a violation of the First Amendment. But the school district argued that the 3rd grader was never punished, and that she and her mother were allowed to distribute coloring books and stickers dealing with cruelty to circus animals the day before the field trip took place.

The district court ruled for the school officials, and in an April 15 decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia, unanimously agreed that the girl had suffered no First Amendment violation.

—Mark Walsh

Columbine Victims’ Families Unveil Plans for Memorial

The families of victims killed in the Columbine High School shootings have unveiled plans for a memorial to be built near the school.

Organizers say the memorial to those killed in the April 20, 1999, attacks will be built on about an acre in a park adjacent to the Jefferson County, Colo., school. Twelve students and a teacher were killed in the attacks. The two student gunmen then killed themselves.

The 28-member Columbine Memorial Committee worked for three years on the design. It will feature an inner “Ring of Remembrance” with testimonials to each of the 13 victims and an outer “Ring of Healing” with additional quotes and text.

Bob Easton, the chairman of the committee, said in a statement that the panel would now seek to raise the estimated $3 million to build the memorial.

—Ann Bradley

Tiger Woods Donates $5 Million To Build Learning Center in Calif.

Tiger Woods plans to spend $5 million for an education center that will open next fall in California.

The $25 million Tiger Woods Learning Center will be open 12 hours a day and offer academic tutoring in mathematics, language arts, and science. Self-esteem and character-development classes also will be offered.

Located at the H.G. “Dad” Miller Golf Course in Anaheim, the center will be next to a 23-acre site that will be used for golf instruction.

Mr. Woods, who at age 27 is already the world’s most recognizable and successful professional golfer, was a member of the Western High School golf team in Anaheim during the 1990s.

The center will open under the auspices of the Tiger Woods Foundation, an organization established in 1996 by Mr. Woods and his father. Officials plan a campaign to raise money to cover the remainder of the costs.

—John Gehring

Mass. Charges Students With Civil Rights Violations

Ten Boston middle school students are the subject of a civil rights complaint filed by the Massachusetts attorney general, who alleges that they attacked fellow students because of their race and ethnicity.

The accused—seven black girls, one Hispanic girl, and two black boys all between the ages of 12 and 14— allegedly ganged up on and verbally and physically assaulted other students, including a white girl, two Afghan girls, and a girl from Liberia.

A Feb. 27 attack outside the 750-student Grover Cleveland Middle School in the city’s Dorchester section left one of the Afghan students with a broken arm, black eyes, and bruises on her face.

The complaint, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, seeks an injunction that would prohibit the 10 former and current Grover Cleveland students “from assaulting, intimidating, or threatening any person because of their actual or perceived ethnic or racial background.”

The state attorney general’s office also said the alleged assailants face criminal charges.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

ACLU Sues N.M. District Over Teachers’ Suspensions

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico has filed a lawsuit against the Albuquerque school district on behalf of four educators who were suspended last month for posting anti-war messages in their classrooms or offices. (“War Lessons Call for Delicate Balance,” March 26, 2003.)

Filed in U.S. District Court on April 18, the suit alleges that the teachers’ First Amendment rights were violated. It asks for back pay and the removal of letters of reprimand from their employment files.

The teachers at Rio Grande and Highland high schools and a counselor for the district were each suspended for up to several days for violating the district’s policy on handling controversial issues.

The district was in the process of reviewing the teachers’ appeals of the suspensions, according to spokesman Rigo Chavez, who called the lawsuit “unfortunate.”

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Federal Judge Orders District To Allow Clubs to Meet

The school board in Boyd County, Ky., had not decided last week whether to appeal a federal judge’s injunction permitting a Gay-Straight Alliance to meet at the local high school.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning in Ashland ruled on April 18 that Boyd County High School must allow the alliance and other school clubs to start meeting. In December, following weeks of controversy over the club, the school board voted to suspend all clubs in the district. (“Ky. Protests Highlight Increasing Visibility of Gay-Straight Clubs,” Nov. 27, 2002.)

The preliminary injunction was requested by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that the ban was an unconstitutional attempt to shut out students who sought to form the gay-straight group and violated state and federal law.

Bill Capehart, the superintendent of the 3,500-student district, said last week that the preliminary injunction expires on June 13, the last day of the school year. The school board is set to discuss whether to appeal the decision at its May 5 meeting.

—Ann Bradley


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