News in Brief: A National Roundup

May 24, 2000 6 min read

Ariz. High School Athletes Indicted on Hazing Charges

Ten student athletes at an Arizona high school have been indicted on felony charges of sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, and kidnapping in connection with the alleged hazing of several teammates.

The athletes—members of the basketball and track teams—from Winslow High School in a rural area in northwest Arizona pleaded not guilty to the charges last week in Navajo County Superior Court. The alleged hazing occurred from January to March and involved the athletes’ restraining teammates and poking their rectums with fingers, pencils, and other objects, according to County Attorney Melvin Bowers. Most of the victims were freshmen, but older teammates were targeted in some incidents, he said.

Three of the students charged have withdrawn from the high school under threat of expulsion, and school officials are examining court documents to determine whether others will face discipline, Mr. Bowers said.

—Mark Walsh

Ala. District Spending Examined

State and federal officials are reviewing questionable financial practices in two Alabama school systems recently taken over by the state.

State officials said last week they were examining the 42,000-student Jefferson County district’s spending in recent years, while the FBI investigates possible money laundering and fraud. District spokeswoman Nez Calhoun acknowledged the school system made “egregious mistakes” in the past. For example, it spent money “off the books” from a now-defunct special fund on such items as personal cell phones and Christmas parties, Ms. Calhoun said.

The district, which faces a $24 million deficit and must also repay $22 million for a bank loan, has laid off nearly 400 employees this spring to help resolve its financial difficulties.

Meanwhile, a separate state audit of the 4,000-student Bessemer City district has accused a former superintendent and two school employees with using district funds for personal expenses such as golf outings and meals. Some of the money has been reimbursed. Criminal charges are anticipated against the two employees.

—Erik W. Robelen

Athlete Moved to House Arrest

After serving nearly three months in prison for roughing up an opponent, a San Antonio high school basketball player has been placed on house arrest while his lawyers seek a new trial and a reduced sentence.

Tony Limon, 18, who is believed to be the first high school athlete sent to prison for acts that took place in the heat of a sporting event, was sentenced to five years’ incarceration. Mr. Limon, at the time a player for South San Antonio High School, was found guilty of using unnecessary roughness during a game last year. An opponent was knocked unconscious, and his nose was broken by Mr. Limon’s blow.

The same judge who passed sentence agreed to release Mr. Limon to house arrest pending a new trial, and imposed a $30,000 appeal bond.

Lawyers for Mr. Limon, who went home May 10, have said a new trial is warranted by evidence that the youth’s coach praised his players for drawing blood. But the coach, Gary L. Durbon, denies the charge and has publicly offered evidence to the contrary.

—Bess Keller

Grant Boosts School-Family Ties

Public, private, parochial, and charter schools in Minneapolis and its northern and western suburbs are planning to work together under an unusual grant from the Minnetonka, Minn.-based Cargill Foundation.

The $1.2 million grant, aimed at improving student achievement in low-income elementary and middle schools and fostering school-family partnerships, will be coordinated by the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

The initiative will begin with the selection by the end of the summer of six schools, which will increase next year to 12. The schools will get together periodically to compare notes and will meet monthly with outside facilitators who can provide technical assistance.

—Ann Bradley

S.C. Coach Pleads Guilty

One of South Carolina’s most successful high school football coaches pleaded guilty last week to charges he spent $200,000 of embezzled school money.

E. Thomas Lewis Jr., who coached Sumter High School to two state titles in 17 years as coach, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to embezzle funds, receiving stolen goods, and official misconduct in office, prosecutor Joe Ozmint said.

Mr. Lewis was accused of using funds from the 10,000-student system Sumter School District 17 for vacations, cars and even prostitutes.

His lawyer, John Ford, said his client was guilty only of taking trips using school money, and did not commit adultery. The trips were part of a pattern of illegal spending engineered by Assistant Superintendent Joe Klein, who has been convicted of taking as much as $3 million over nearly 20 years.

—Alan Richard

Threat Changes E-Mail Policy

Unable to trace the source of threatening e-mail messages from a high school to a student, Boston school officials have decided to halt the option that allows students and teachers to sign up for free Yahoo! or Hotmail electronic-mail accounts through school.

Two students from the 240-student Boston Arts Academy, meanwhile, have confessed to sending the messages, which included a death threat, and have been suspended. One was later expelled for sending additional threatening messages.

District officials decided this month to restrict how students obtain e-mail accounts in all Boston public schools to prevent further incidents, said Tracey M. Lynch, the communications director for the 64,000-student system. Students and teachers will still be able to obtain free accounts, but students must now get them directly from a teacher after registering their names and e-mail addresses with the school, Ms. Lynch said.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Los Alamos Schools To Reopen

Schools in Los Alamos, N.M., were scheduled to reopen this week after being shut down since May 8 because of raging fires.

The fires, which spread after the National Park Service began a “controlled burn” to clear brush, prompted officials to evacuate the area and left hundreds of families without homes.

Staff members in the 3,700-student district returned to school at the end of last week, and students were expected to return to class May 22, according to Superintendent James Anderson.

No school buildings were burned, but about 400 families whose children attend district schools lost their homes, the superintendent said. District officials have asked the state education department to waive the mandatory 180-day school year.

—John Gehring

6th Graders Charged With Lying

Seven 6th grade girls who accused a Maryland physical education teacher of sexual misconduct have been charged with lying to the police.

Douglas F. Gansler, the state’s attorney for Montgomery County, said last week he had filed charges in juvenile court against the 6th graders for making a false statement to police and conspiring to make a false statement.

The girls had accused Ronald Heller, 54, a teacher at the 750-student Roberto W. Clemente Middle School, of following several girls into a locker room, watching them undress, and then fondling them.

After the accusations were made, the teacher was placed on leave with pay but soon returned to his teaching job after six of the girls confessed they had lied. A boy who had lied initially to school officials and then recanted was not charged because he had not lied to the police.

The girls could face juvenile-justice supervision until age 21. Mr. Gansler said he would seek a sentence of community service for them.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Principal Resigns Over Gun

Officials of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms last week were investigating an Alabama principal who resigned from his post after district administrators were tipped off that he was carrying a gun at school.

Don Murphy, the Morgan County schools superintendent, told local reporters that he found Mitchell Owens with a loaded .22-caliber pistol in his pocket. The principal of the 350-student Danville High School reportedly said he was carrying the gun for protection.

Though Alabama law permits adults to carry guns on school property, it is a federal crime that could mean a sentence of up to five years in prison, according to the ATF. Neither the district nor Mr. Owens could be reached for comment last week.

—Jessica Portner

A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2000 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup