News in Brief: A National Roundup

April 16, 2003 7 min read
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Doctors Call for Schools To Stock Radiation Pills

Schools and child-care facilities within a 10-mile radius of nuclear power plants should keep potassium iodide on hand, the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending.

The “Radiation Disasters and Children” policy statement is available from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Read also a compilation of related questions and answers. (Require Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The compound works to block the thyroid gland’s absorption of harmful radiation and can prevent thyroid cancer, the academy said this month. Children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of radiation disasters because their bodies metabolize substances differently and they are closer to the ground, where radioactive fallout settles.

The academy plans to publish a policy statement on the topic in the June issue of its journal, Pediatrics.

Academy officials said the policy statement was written to address the threat of terrorist attacks, such as the explosion of “dirty bombs,” and of accidents at nuclear plants.

In the statement, the pediatricians’ group notes that potassium iodide is most effective when administered right before exposure to radioiodines, which is why it calls on homes, schools, and child-care centers near nuclear power plants to stock the compound.

—Ann Bradley

Florida Pupil Kept at Home Because of Suspected SARS

Public-health officials in Okaloosa County, Fla., are investigating a suspected case of severe acute respiratory syndrome in a 6-year-old boy who is recovering at his home.

The child, a student at Lula J. Edge Elementary School, apparently contracted the illness from a family member who had recently traveled to a country in Asia and caught SARS.

He will remain in isolation at his home until 10 days after his symptoms go away, according to Dr. Karen Chapman, the county health director. The health department said there was no medical reason for otherwise healthy students or staff members at the school to stay home.

The Okaloosa County school district posted fact sheets and common questions and answers about the disease on its Web site, advising students and staff members at the elementary school to monitor their health until April 17 and to call authorities if they experienced symptoms including a fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath.

—Ann Bradley

Los Angeles School Board Opposes State Exit Exam

The Los Angeles school board has voted to oppose California’s mandate that all students pass the state high school exit exam to earn their diplomas.

Board members in the nation’s second-largest school district said they were concerned that the requirement would penalize students who were enrolled in ill- equipped, overcrowded, and underperforming schools. The board hopes that its motion, approved on April 8, will encourage the state board of education to delay the requirement for the class of 2004.

A report reviewing the anticipated effects of the exit-exam requirement will be presented to the state board next month.

Officials of the Los Angeles Unified district estimate that 70 percent of its 746,000-student seniors won’t pass the exam in time to graduate next year. Board members also said they believe the exit exam will increase dropout rates.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Administrators Not Immune In Suit Over Alleged Taunts

Administrators of a California school district are not immune from a federal lawsuit alleging that they failed to properly respond to harassment of students who were gay or perceived to be gay, a federal appeals court ruled last week.

Seven former students of the 9,000-student Morgan Hill Unified district sued the district and four administrators over their handling of alleged gay harassment in incidents that occurred from 1991 to 1998.

One of the plaintiffs, Alana Flores, found notes in her locker that said “Die, dyke bitch.” When she showed them to an assistant principal, he allegedly told her: “You need to go back to class. Don’t bring me this trash anymore.”

A middle school student identified in court papers as “F.F.” alleges he was beaten by six students who said, “Faggot, you don’t belong here.” Only one student was punished by school administrators, the lawsuit said.

The administrators had sought to be dismissed as defendants, but their bids were rejected by a federal district judge in San Jose, Calif. In an April 8 ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, unanimously ruled for the students.

The appeals court said the students had presented sufficient evidence to suggest that the administrators were “deliberately indifferent” to the alleged harassment.

—Mark Walsh

Lawsuit Accuses Ark. District Of Harassing Gay Student

A school district in Arkansas is being sued for allegedly punishing an openly gay student for discussing his sexual orientation by making him read passages from the Bible aloud.

The suit, filed in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union on April 8, contends that school officials at the 750-student Jacksonville Junior High School, near Little Rock, got in touch with the parents of 14-year old Thomas McLaughlin, who did not know their son was gay, and revealed the student’s sexual orientation.

One of the boy’s teachers called his mother to complain about his sexual orientation, calling it “disgusting,” according to the ACLU.

The lawsuit contends that school officials preached to the student and have ordered him not to discuss his sexual orientation at school.

At an April 10 court conference, officials with the 18,000-student district agreed not to restrict what the student can say. The lawsuit, which asks the Pulaski County Special School District to clear his disciplinary record, contends that the district violated his rights to free speech, equal protection, and privacy.

U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Eisele said last week that he would expedite the trial in the lawsuit.

—Michelle Galley

U.S. Appeals Court Rules
Unions Must Have Audits

Teachers’ unions, regardless of their size, must have their finances reviewed by an independent auditor, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled this month.

The April 3 decision by the federal court, which covers Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, was a long-sought victory for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a civil liberties group based in Springfield, Va. The organization filed a class action in 1983 on behalf of seven Pennsylvania teachers who challenged the fair-share fees the 344-member local union in Shaler, Pa., charges employees who don’t join it.

The teachers contended that a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision that required the 27,500- member Chicago Teachers Union to have its expenditures verified by an independent auditor applies to all unions, large and small.

The appeals court agreed. “The Supreme Court’s mandate cannot be bent simply because the cost to the union is great,” the judges wrote.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, said the requirement is a costly burden for small affiliates, prompting some to waive the fair-share fees.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Chicago Archdiocese to Close Five Elementary Schools

The Archdiocese of Chicago, which operates the nation’s largest Roman Catholic school system, announced last week that it will close five elementary schools.

The schools, which will not reopen in the fall, had low enrollments and deficits, the archdiocese said in a statement.

In addition to those problems, the schools were faced with demographic shifts and a decrease in the number of parishioners choosing to send their children to Catholic schools, it said. The schools are located in Chicago and in Maywood, Skokie, and Northfield, Ill.

The archdiocese currently operates 290 schools, serving 117,000 students.

—Ann Bradley

Death: Wayne H. Martin

Wayne H. Martin, a nationally known expert on testing who worked for the Council of Chief State School Officers, died on March 20. He was 57 and had suffered complications from surgery.

Mr. Martin was a special adviser to G. Thomas Houlihan, the executive director of the Washington-based council. Previously, he served as the director of its State Education Assessment Center for 5½ years.

Before moving to Washington, he worked for 12 years for the Colorado Department of Education and served as its assessment director for six years under then-Gov. Roy Romer.

—Ann Bradley


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