News in Brief: A National Roundup

October 09, 2002 6 min read
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Survey Finds Age Gap On Social Attitudes

An assessment of the “generation gap” in American politics has found that young people are more conservative than their elders on some prominent social issues.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that 69 percent of 15- to 18-year-olds, for example, support school prayer. Among adults ages 27 to 59, 59 percent supported allowing prayer at school activities.

The study, released last month, was based on interviews conducted last year with about 1,250 people ages 15 to 92 as part of the Public Agendas and Citizen Engagement Survey of the university’s Survey Research Center.

“We were surprised by the greater support among young Americans for some aspects of the conservative cultural agenda,” Merrill Shanks, a political science professor and one of the lead researchers, said of their findings.

Just 40 percent of 27- to 59-year-olds supported the idea of giving federal aid to faith-based charities, the survey found. In contrast, 59 percent of 19- to 22-year-olds and 67 percent of respondents ages 15 to 18 supported such aid.

Younger people also were more supportive of restrictions on abortion than their elders. Among people ages 15 to 22, 44 percent supported government restrictions on abortion; 34 percent of adults older than 26 did so.

—Ann Bradley

Mennonite School Ordered To Install Modern Plumbing

A Mennonite school in Elkton, Ky., has until next week to install a septic system and running water in its one-room building or face being shut down.

Prompted by a complaint from the local health department, a Todd County Circuit Court judge ordered the 25-student Liberty Road Christian School to comply with state statutes, which require an indoor source for drinking water and hand washing and connection to a septic system.

But school officials contend that installing more modern plumbing facilities runs counter to their desire to live a simple life and would force the school to consolidate with others. Students use outhouses and drink water from an outdoor spigot.

Leslie Daniels, the director of the county health department, said that Todd County has a fairly large Mennonite community, but that families vary in their use of running water, motor-vehicle transportation, and other conveniences.

The health department warned school leaders that they were breaking the law when they built the school two years ago.

—Linda Jacobson

Fla. Honor Students Win Battle to Stay in School

Two honor students in Pensacola, Fla., went back to school last week after successfully fighting the district’s efforts to expel them for possessing drugs on campus.

The students, both 15-year-old girls, told administrators that one had found a plastic bag of pills on campus, but had been too frightened to turn it in. She gave it to a friend to hold, and both were turned in to school officials after a third student saw the bag and reported them.

A committee in the 43,000-student Escambia County district recommended that the girls be expelled under its zero-tolerance policy. But the students appealed that decision, and two hearing officers ruled in their favor, said Ronnie Arnold, a spokesman for the district.

The bag contained about a dozen pills, including over-the-counter medications and one drug that is a controlled substance, officials said.

—Ann Bradley

California District Faces Renewed Takeover Threat

A school district in northern California again faces the threat of a state takeover if officials do not reach a settlement with lawyers for special education students in a 7-year-old class action.

Deadlines have come and gone for the Ravenswood City School District, located in East Palo Alto, to reach an agreement. At the time of the last deadline, on Sept. 17, both sides agreed to continue talks. U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson did not set a new deadline.

Lawyers for the 500 special education students asked the judge late last month to resume contempt proceedings against the district, saying they had “no confidence” that an agreement could be reached. In that event, the judge could decide to call for a state takeover.

“We are all optimistic,” Charlie Mae Knight, the superintendent of the 5,300-student district, said. “We hope to finally reach some decision. It is just very difficult to try and run a district not knowing what is going to happen.”

The lawsuit contends that the district has failed to adopt special education policies and procedures and lacks properly trained and supervised staff members.

Lawyers for the students did not return phone calls.

—Lisa Fine Goldstein

Pa. Supreme Court Upholds Student’s Penalty for Web Site

A school district did not violate the U.S. Constitution by disciplining a student who created a derogatory and threatening Web site from his home and posted it on the Internet, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled.

The Sept. 25 ruling in J.S. v Bethlehem Area School District upheld two lower-court decisions in favor of the district, which expelled Justin Swidler, then 14, for setting up the “Teacher Sux” Web site in 1998.

The site was full of offensive references and sexual innuendoes about the principal of Nitschmann Middle School, which the student attended. It also contained what the high court said were “degrading” descriptions of a teacher at the school, called for the teacher’s death, and solicited $20 from visitors “to help pay for the hitman.”

A jury in 2000 ordered the student’s parents to pay $500,000 for invasion of privacy of the teacher, who claimed that emotional trauma caused by the Web site resulted in her missing part of the 1997-98 school year and taking medical leave for the entire next year.

The student’s lawyer did not return calls seeking comment last week.

—Andrew Trotter

Chicago Teachers Accused Of Helping Students Cheat

Six Chicago elementary teachers and one teacher’s aide face dismissal charges after being accused of cheating on a standardized test given to students last school year.

Staff members in 14 schools in the 437,000-student system are being investigated for possible cheating on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills given last spring, according to a statement released by the district last week.

Two principals will receive warnings concerning breaches in security during the administration of the test, and a third principal will receive a written reprimand, according to the statement.

School officials so far have taken disciplinary action against employees in half the 14 schools. Two schools won’t receive any disciplinary action, and five are still being investigated.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Berkeley, Calif., Schools Drop Organic Food for Now

Organic meals have been taken off the menu in the Berkeley, Calif., district for the time being, while school administrators try to figure out a way to make them cost-effective and more appealing to students.

Last year, students got to sample organic lasagna, avocado sandwiches, and organic pork tacos, but the offerings weren’t as popular as the traditional pizza and burgers, said Karen R. Candito, the director of nutrition services for the 9,500-student district.

But Ms. Candito said suspending the organic meals had more to do with cost and practicality than with their lukewarm appeal. Prices of the organic items were high, she said, and often the foods were packaged in a way that made them difficult to handle in large quantities.

Ms. Candito said that she was “aggressively working” with manufacturers to find a way to meet the district’s needs, and that she hopes to put organic foods back on the menu.

—Michelle R. Davis


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