News in Brief: A National Roundup

October 10, 2001 6 min read
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Judge Orders Reinstatement
Of N.Y.C. District Leader

A New York state judge has ordered the reinstatement of a former New York City district superintendent in a case that hinged partly on the miscalculation of student test scores.

Robert E. Riccobono was one of five superintendents of community school districts fired in July 1999 by then-Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew because their schools showed low academic achievement. But state school officials later learned that reading scores in District 19 in Brooklyn had in fact risen.

Judge John G. Connor ruled in Mr. Riccobono’s favor on Sept. 22. That decision upholds one by state Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills, who ruled last fall that the New York City board of education must reinstate Mr. Riccobono with back pay and benefits. Neither decision specifies the job to which Mr. Riccobono must be allowed to return.

“The respondent has a protected property interest in his employment, and the chancellor’s authority to dismiss the superintendent was subject to the requirements of due process,” Judge Connor wrote.

Lawyers for the board argued that Mr. Riccobono’s overall performance was unsatisfactory.

A spokeswoman for the board, Margie Feinberg, had no comment on the judge’s ruling. Mr. Riccobono was unavailable for comment.

—Mark Stricherz

Hispanics Unhappy With Map
Approved by Dallas Board

Dallas school board members last week approved a new map for school board elections that failed to add a third district with a Hispanic majority, prompting protests from Hispanic activists.

“We want a map that allows Latinos to participate fully in the electoral process,” said Rafael M. Anchia, the only Hispanic on the nine-member board. The vote on the new map was 5-4.

Mr. Anchia had advocated adding a third Hispanic-majority district to the two existing ones. Mr. Anchia voted against the new map, which he characterized as maintaining the status quo.

The Dallas board was required by federal law to come up with a new voting map based on the 2000 U.S. Census. More than half the 164,000 students in the Dallas Independent School District are Hispanic. The other board members are African-American or non-Hispanic white.

Ken Zornes, the chairman of the school board, said the new map recasts boundaries of voting regions so that no one district has 10 percent more people in it than another, an outcome stipulated by law.

Mr. Zornes supported the addition of a third Hispanic-majority district and also voted against the new map.

—Mary Ann Zehr

27 Buffalo Teachers Face Job Loss
Over Residency Rule

Twenty-seven teachers who work in the Buffalo, N.Y., schools have been given until March to move into the city or risk losing their jobs, an ultimatum that has added fuel to an ongoing debate over the district’s residency rule.

The educators are the first in the system affected by a 1998 district policy that requires teachers to show they live in the city within six months of earning tenure, which generally takes three years to achieve. The policy’s aims were to increase diversity among the system’s teaching ranks, create stronger ties between staff members and students, and stem a declining urban population.

Some board members now worry that the rule inhibits efforts to attract and retain enough qualified teachers, but the board remains split on the issue. Administrators with the 46,000-student district plan to study how the rule has affected recruitment to help the board decide whether to keep or change the policy.

In the meantime, however, the panel last month had administrators notify the noncomplying teachers that they could be terminated. Said board member Jack Coyle: “If it’s on the books, we have to enforce it.”

Local union leaders have vowed to fight any attempt to fire members over the rule.

—Jeff Archer

Broward County Union Head
Resigns After His Arrest

Tony Gentile, the president of Florida’s second-largest local teachers’ union, resigned from his post last week, two months after being arrested on charges of computer pornography.

The Broward Teachers Union’s executive board accepted Mr. Gentile’s resignation during an Oct. 3 meeting. He also agreed to relinquish his union membership and to hold the union legally and financially harmless. The BTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

Mr. Gentile, who had led the 10,000-member Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based union since 1979, was arrested July 26 and charged with computer pornography and transmission of harmful materials to a minor. He has been on unpaid leave from his position since the arrest and pleaded not guilty to the charges in August.

Patrick A. Santeramo, the union’s vice president, will continue to serve as the interim president through the end of March. Following elections, a new president is slated to take over the union leadership April 1.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Arrests Prompt Okla. School
To Cancel Freshman Football

The freshman football season at Webster High School in Tulsa, Okla., has been canceled following the arrest of two players charged with raping a teammate with a broom handle.

Fourteen students on the freshman football team who were involved in the alleged incident were suspended.

The two 14-year-old students were arrested on complaints of rape by instrumentation after the student was allegedly forced into a locker room and attacked as a form of hazing, according to Wayne Allen, a spokesman for the Tulsa police department.

David Sawyer, the superintendent of the 42,000-student Tulsa public schools, has told teachers, coaches, and principals he will implement a zero-tolerance policy on hazing.

—John Gehring

N.H. School Board Leaves
Association Over Dispute

The 2,900-student Governor Wentworth Regional School District in Wolfeboro Falls, N.H., has dropped its membership this year in the New Hampshire State School Boards Association over the issue of television violence.

The school board decided to cancel its $5,400 membership after the state association again rejected a proposal by the district that would have urged boards throughout the state to provide parent education programs on the effects television violence can have on children.

The district had advocated supporting the Parents Television Council, a 625,000-member nonpartisan group based in Los Angeles that was established in 1995 in an effort to make the public aware of the negative aspects of violent TV shows.

In rejecting the proposal, the state association’s board of directors said it was not the place of districts to make parental choices.

Superintendent John Robertson said the Governor Wentworth school board had no intention of trying to interfere, but just wanted to educate parents.

—Marianne Hurst


Stanley S. Herr, a University of Maryland law professor whose early legal victories helped lead to the adoption of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, died Sept. 24 at his Baltimore home. Mr. Herr, who had battled adrenal-cortical carcinoma, was 56.

Mr. Herr was the lead lawyer in a 1972 case called Mills v. District of Columbia involving a child whom school officials prohibited from attending elementary school because of his disability. In upholding a lower- court ruling permitting him to go to school, the U.S. Supreme Court established the legal principle that all children are entitled to a public education regardless of disability.

Mr. Herr was active in working with the homeless, and this past summer filed a brief with the Supreme Court in a successful effort to forestall the execution of a mentally retarded Texas man.

Raquel Schuster-Herr, his wife, said her husband’s interest in disability rights had family origins. Because his aunt was mentally disabled, she was turned away by U.S. officials at Ellis Island and was returned to Lithuania. She later died in the Holocaust.

—Ben Wear


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