News in Brief: A National Roundup

April 16, 1997 7 min read

N.J. Officials Reject District’s Voucher Plan

State officials have quashed a New Jersey district’s plan to award vouchers that would allow its high school students to attend private schools.

The 1,275-student Lincoln Park district, which approved its voucher plan in February, does not have its own high school but is responsible for its 325 high-school-age residents.

The district currently pays about $9,000 per student in tuition to a neighboring district. (“N.J. District Proposes Vouchers For High Schoolers,” Feb. 12, 1997.) At least 24 Lincoln Park students who will enter the 9th grade had signed up to use vouchers at religious schools.

Last week, however, state Commissioner of Education Leo Klagholz issued a letter stating that the district has no “statutory authorization to implement the voucher program.”

Lincoln Park school board members have said they may try to proceed with a voucher program using private funds.

Vote Tampering Alleged

The federal government is suing the New York City Board of Elections, contending that poll workers violated the rights of African-American and Hispanic voters by tampering with ballots to help elect a white school board candidate.

The lawsuit, filed April 3 in U.S. District Court in New York, seeks to void the May 7, 1996, election in Community School District 8 in the east Bronx. The suit also asks for better training of poll workers to ensure they remain neutral.

According to the suit, poll workers illegally added the name of a write-in candidate to more than 100 ballots and passed out campaign fliers on election day.

A Board of Elections spokeswoman said the agency adequately trains its workers.

Court Bans Preferences

An Atlanta school system program that gives preference to minority and female contractors has been dealt a setback in a federal court.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled this month that the district must stop giving special treatment to firms headed by women, Asian-Americans, or Hispanics, and that it must either justify in court the preference it accords black firms or end that aspect of the 5-year-old program, too.

School officials say that the main thrust of the preference program has been to make up for past discrimination against minorities, and that they will demonstrate such discrimination in court.

The rulings resulted from a lawsuit filed two years ago by a tire company owned by a white man. The company lost out on a school system contract because of the preference system.

Odor Leads to Expulsion

A federal judge has upheld an Arkansas school district’s expulsion of a student who had smoked marijuana before arriving at school.

Alerted by an employee that Lamar Raper, a senior, smelled of marijuana smoke, the Hazen district’s high school principal determined that the student had used the drug by testing his vision. The principal then searched Mr. Raper and found rolling paper.

The 485-student district had the right to invoke its expulsion policy even if the penalty was “unduly harsh,” U.S. District Judge Henry Woods ruled last month.

N.Y.C. Official Ousted

New York City schools chief Rudy F. Crew last week ousted the president of one of the city’s 32 community school boards on the grounds that she had ignored his orders to stop interviewing candidates for local superintendent.

The chancellor’s removal of Lynn Gross from the board of Community School District 28 in Queens came just days after the U.S. Department of Justice said it would not challenge a new state law that gave Mr. Crew the power to select local superintendents. (“Crew Packs Arsenal of New Powers in N.Y.C.,” Jan. 15, 1997.)

Ms. Gross said last week that she would appeal her ouster. She and Mr. Crew differ on whether she complied with an order to halt the superintendent-search process that Mr. Crew issued after the April 1 Justice Department announcement.

Court Passes on Choice

The Wisconsin Supreme Court last week denied a request to provide an expedited review of a ruling that struck down the expansion of the Milwaukee school voucher program to include religious schools.

The action means the constitutionality of the expansion will be reviewed by a midlevel state appeals court before the case can go to the state high court.

A state trial judge ruled in January that the Wisconsin legislature’s 1995 vote to expand the pilot program violated the state constitution. (“Judge Overturns Expanded Wis. Voucher Plan,” Jan. 22, 1997.)

Milwaukee parents who support the expansion sought to bypass the appeals court. But the high court on April 8 denied the request without comment.

The supreme court last year deadlocked 3-3 in the case. (“Court Deadlocks on Religious School Vouchers,” Apr. 10, 1996, and “Religious School Vouchers Get Day in Court,” March 6, 1996.)

Teacher Sues Over Shooting

A former Maryland high school teacher who was shot by a police officer’s son at school three years ago filed a $9 million civil lawsuit last week against the officer and the Prince George’s County government.

In the suit, Barrington Miles charges that Cpl. Warren H. Graham was negligent in failing to secure his county-police-issued gun and bullets. Mr. Graham’s son, Warren E. Graham, took the gun to his high school in Upper Marlboro, Md., and shot Mr. Miles in the chest after refusing to surrender the weapon.

The high school senior, who was 17 at the time, was convicted of attempted second-degree murder and sentenced to five years in prison. Mr. Miles, 48, is still employed by the school system as a computer trainer, but has not returned to teaching.

County officials declined to comment, saying they had not yet received a copy of the suit. Mr. Graham was unavailable for comment.

Ute Tribe Boycotts School

Ute tribal leaders in Utah are stewing over their lack of representation on the Uintah district school board.

The tribe led a two-day boycott last month that resulted in roughly 250 students staying home from school. Close to 11 percent of the eastern Utah district’s 6,700 students are American Indian.

No American Indian has ever been elected to the district’s five-member board. The tribe supported a non-Indian candidate in November elections, but a judge invalidated the results, citing irregularities. The board considered nine candidates, including three American Indians, to fill the seat, but could not reach a consensus.

The Uintah county commission then appointed a non-Indian to the post.

Needle Used in Assault

A 6th grader was charged with assault and expelled from a Corrigan, Texas, school last week after attacking a dozen schoolmates with a hypodermic needle.

“This kid was walking down the hall sticking kids as he went,” said Bob Wells, the superintendent of the Corrigan-Camden schools, a rural, 1,200-student district.

Another 14-year-old 6th grader, who brought the needle to school, was also charged with assault and expelled for the remainder of the school year.

District officials, who immediately ordered blood tests for the victims, said all the results have come back negative. No motive was given for the assault.

Students Blue Over ‘Mooning’

When two Carroll High School cheerleaders and four baseball players in Southlake, Texas, were caught “mooning” each other on their way home from a basketball game, all received three-day school suspensions.

But the punishments for the February incident diverged when the baseball players were suspended for three games and the cheerleaders were kicked off the squad permanently.

Parents of the cheerleaders say the difference in the penalties amounts to a discriminatory double standard.

But officials of the 4,837-student district said the punishment was appropriate because district cheerleaders sign an agreement acknowledging that they can be kicked off the squad if they are involved in a serious disciplinary incident or engage in “unladylike” behavior.

Immediate Past President of L.A. Teachers Dies

Helen F. Bernstein, the immediate past president of United Teachers of Los Angeles, died April 3 when she was struck by a car while crossing a busy Los Angeles street.

Ms. Bernstein, 52, served from 1990 to 1996 as the president of the 32,000-member teachers’ union, earning a reputation as a forceful advocate both for teachers and school reform.

She was a founding member of the Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now, or learn, and last year became the director of the Teacher Union Reform Network, a group of leaders from both national teachers’ unions. She also served as an education adviser to Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan.

Ms. Bernstein was struck as she dashed to a candidates’ forum to campaign for a seat on a proposed commission to rewrite the city’s charter. Because Ms. Bernstein was not in a crosswalk, no charges were filed against the car’s driver.