News in Brief: A National Roundup

March 15, 2000 6 min read

Wide Support Seen for Teaching Evolution

A large majority of the public wants evolution taught in the public schools, and 60 percent disagree with last year’s decision by the Kansas board of education to remove virtually all discussion of evolution from the state science standards, according to a poll released last week by the People for the American Way Foundation.

Eighty-three percent of those surveyed believe evolution should be taught in schools. Most do not consider evolution and creationism mutually exclusive, but fewer than 30 percent want creationism taught as science in public schools, instead favoring its discussion in other classes, such as philosophy.

Sixty-six percent endorse a national approach to teaching evolution rather than leaving the matter to “individual localities.”

The survey, conducted by the opinion-research firm DYG Inc. of Danbury, Conn., questioned 1,500 adult Americans last December. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points. The report can be downloaded online at (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

—Naomi Greengrass

Dispute on R-Rated Film Leads to Teacher’s Arrest

A dispute over the showing of an R-rated film to students at a California high school has escalated to the point where an English teacher has been arrested in front of her students.Mary Louise Rawn-Peterson, a teacher at Santa Paula High School in Ventura County, showed the movie “American Beauty” to her Advanced Placement English class earlier this month. The film has been nominated for eight Academy Awards.

District policy forbids showing a film with such a rating. Initially, officials in the 1,500-student Santa Paula district issued a written reprimand, but when Ms. Rawn-Peterson refused to interrupt class to speak with administrators last week, she was handcuffed and arrested on trespassing charges while about 30 of her students looked on, she said.

Three days later, the school board voted to discontinue her contract after this year. District officials would not comment late last week, but the teacher said in an interview that she believes her treatment is the result of her having criticized district policies.

—Jeff Archer

9th Grader Isolated for Story

A student at Hoke County High School in Raeford, N.C. has been separated from his English class and given independent study after teachers and school officials expressed alarm over a story the 9th grader wrote for class.

In “The Hoke County Massacre,” the student described the violent deaths of 192 students and more than two dozen teachers at the school, in some instances naming people he knew. The principal recommended a long-term suspension for the student, who said the story was not a threat, but the school board of the 6,000-student Hoke County district reversed the decision and allowed him to return after a few days. The principal, Barry Wall, has appealed to the board, which was set to discuss the issue March 14.

A school committee recommended that the boy be removed from the teacher’s classroom. But after another teacher said she felt threatened by the student, Superintendent Don Steed suggested the independent-study option.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

N.Y. Ministers Offer Programs

School officials in Hempstead, N.Y., have joined forces with a partnership of local ministers to offer academic and social counseling at the district’s high school. The Ministers Alliance to Develop Education, unveiled last month, will provide secular programs such as tutoring, anti-gang education, parenting-skills workshops, career-skills assistance, and AIDS-awareness programs.

The programs will be open to all of the district’s 6,500 students and to members of the community. Leaders of the Hempstead school district said the partnership would follow the guidelines on religion and public schools issued by the U.S. Department of Education in December.

The ministers and their representatives will not proselytize, bring religious symbols into the schools, or use prayer during counseling.

The partnership is intended to provide mentors to students who have behavioral or academic problems, to improve student achievement, and to tackle the district’s gang problem.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Teacher Fined for Kick

A Shawano, Wis., high school teacher has pleaded no contest to battery charges and received a $402.50 fine for kicking a student.

The incident at Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School occurred in October after the student jostled a vending machine.

According to the criminal complaint filed by the 18-year-year-old student, teacher Daniel P. Day, 54, came up behind him, kicked him, and then grabbed him by the shoulders.

The 1,500-student Wittenberg-Birnamwood school system is requiring that Mr. Day, who entered his plea Feb. 29, attend anger-management classes. The misdemeanor battery charges could have resulted in a nine-month jail term and a $10,000 fine.

—Naomi Greengrass

Anti-Smoking Results Tracked

Cigarette smoking among youths in Florida dropped significantly following the creation two years ago of a statewide anti-smoking program, according to a recent study.

Current cigarette use—meaning within the past 30 days—declined 54 percent among middle school students and 24 percent among high school students since implementation of the Florida Tobacco Pilot Program, the survey of 23,000 students by the Florida Department of Health found. The anti-smoking media messages and prevention activities began in 1998 with money from a 1997 settlement with tobacco companies. (“Florida’s Four-Pronged Attack on Teen Smoking Pays Off,” June 23, 1999.)

The two-year decline represents 79,000 fewer Florida youths 12- to 18-years old smoking in 2000, compared with 1998.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Silence Leads to Expulsions

Two students at an Illinois high school have been expelled for one year after failing to tell administrators what they knew about a bomb threat.

The freshman and sophomore from the 1,400-student Round Lake High School near Lake Michigan were expelled March 2 by the Round Lake Area School District board for not telling administrators that they knew a Feb. 14 bomb threat was fake.

The district determined that the boys had violated clauses in the student code that forbid classroom disturbances and behavior that may jeopardize health and safety.

Both boys are also facing felony disorderly-conduct charges in Lake County Circuit Court, and the high school is seeking $5,300 in restitution to cover police, maintenance, and bus driver overtime because of the threat.

—Candice Furlan

Kidnapped Girl Returned

A 10-year-old girl was reunited with her family March 9 after being kidnapped three days earlier as she and her sisters stepped off the school bus outside the family’s home near Trenton, Fla.

The kidnapper released Jessica Ashlyn Rodriquez unharmed at a Wal-Mart in Gainesville, Fla., about 30 miles northeast of Trenton. The Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office said Jessica had been pulled into a Jeep Cherokee by an unknown white man believed to be in his 30s. The Cherokee pulled into the girl’s driveway and the man got out to talk with Jessica, a pupil at the 650-student Bell Elementary School, and her 4-year-old sister. A third sister, age 8, witnessed the abduction and alerted her mother’s fiancé. He chased the kidnapper by car but was unable to catch up.

The sheriff’s office in Alachua County, where Jessica was found, would not release further medical information. Both county sheriffs’ offices continue to search for the suspect.

—Naomi Greengrass

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