News in Brief: A National Roundup

October 22, 1997 8 min read

N.Y.C. Schools Can Be Sued Over Girl’s Off-Campus Rape

New York state’s highest court has ruled that a girl who was raped after being left behind on a school field trip may sue the New York City public schools for negligence.

The unanimous four-page decision by the New York Court of Appeals on Oct. 16 overturned a state appellate-division ruling that had dismissed the suit. The appellate division said the district could not be held liable because the rape was not foreseeable.

A trial court jury had awarded the girl $3 million after the 1988 incident. The girl, then in the 6th grade, was left behind after her class visited a drug-awareness fair at a city park. Two junior-high-school boys, acquaintances of the girl, later pleaded guilty to first-degree rape.

The case now goes back to the appellate court for further hearings. Phil Russo, a spokesman for the New York schools said, “We accept the ruling of the court.” He added that further appeal is not possible.

Brian J. Isaac, a lawyer for the girl, said he was “ecstatic” about the ruling. He said it was significant that the court opened the door to holding the school district liable for security at an off-campus event.

Gonzalez Pleads Guilty

Former Dallas schools Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez formally pleaded guilty last week in federal court to a single felony count of misapplying public funds. Her sentencing date was set for Jan. 14. She faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Yvonne Gonzalez

Ms. Gonzalez announced plans last month to resign in the wake of a lawsuit filed against her by the district’s chief financial officer, who claimed she had sexually harrassed him and had spitefully tried to ruin the careers of competent employees. The school board kept her on leave, however, until Oct. 7, the day after she admitted to embezzling district funds to buy a six-piece bedroom set. (“In Plea Deal, Dallas Supt. Admits Theft,” Oct. 15, 1997.)

Ms. Gonzalez took over the 158,000-student district in January. Three months later, she launched the corruption investigation that eventually pointed investigators back to her, among others.

State Must Pay Yonkers

Gov. George E. Pataki of New York plans to appeal a federal district court judge’s recent decision ordering the state to help pay to desegregate the Yonkers public schools.

The move is the latest in a long-running legal case between the district, which has almost 24,000 students, and the state. In a strongly worded ruling handed down Oct. 8, Judge Leonard B. Sand accused the state of using litigation to delay making payments to the Yonkers schools. He ordered the state to pay $450,000 initially to remedy the vestiges of years of segregation, but the costs ultimately could run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

The latest ruling follows a decision last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that found the state partially liable for segregation in Yonkers because state officials hindered efforts to integrate the schools in the 1960s and ‘70s. The court instructed the state to pay to help eliminate disparities between white and minority students in the district. Enrollment in the Yonkers district is roughly 40 percent Hispanic, 30 percent black, and 30 percent white. In July, the U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment to hear the state’s appeal of the ruling. (“Court Voids Religious-Freedom Law, Defers on Special Education Cases,” July 9, 1997.)

In a statement, Gov. Pataki, a Republican, said that he would appeal Judge Sand’s decision, and that he blamed the administration of his Democratic predecessor, Mario M. Cuomo, for the problems. He also said that his administration had boosted state aid to the district from $24 million in 1995 to $56.8 million this year.

Admission Denial Challenged

The parents of a white student who was denied admission to an honors magnet school in Buffalo, N.Y., have filed a lawsuit alleging that the school district uses illegal racial quotas in the program.

Frank and Patricia Zagare filed the suit Oct. 1 in U.S. District Court in Buffalo on behalf of their 6th grade daughter, who was denied admission the past two years to City Honors School, a magnet academy with competitive admissions for gifted and talented students in grades 5-12.

The district uses a racial quota requiring 60 percent minority admissions to City Honors and other magnet programs, the suit says.

The quotas were established as part of the district’s desegregation plan, but a federal district judge ended court supervision of the district in 1995.

The Zagares’ daughter had a 5th grade evaluation score higher than 25 of the 36 minority students admitted to City Honors last school year.

This year, she sought to get one of five replacement spots in the honors program and had an evaluation score higher than those of three minority applicants who were awarded admission, the suit says.

The suit argues that the district’s continued use of racial quotas violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal-protection clause. The plaintiffs are seeking an order requiring the girl’s admission to the program and an end to the quotas.

Andy Maddigan, a spokesman for the district, said Buffalo school officials are re-evaluating their system for admission to magnet programs and expect to have a new system in place in the 1998-99 school year.

“We’re in a position where we have to get up to speed with what the legal arena will permit without reverting to segregation,” he said.

Mich. Preferences Targeted

A lawsuit filed last week by a Washington-based legal-advocacy group challenges race-based admissions preferences at the University of Michigan as unconstitutional.

The Center for Individual Rights filed suit in federal district court in Detroit on behalf of two white students who were denied admission to the university in 1995 and 1996. In addition, the suit seeks monetary damages for all individuals who have been denied admission to the public university because of racial preferences since 1995.

The suit contends that the university’s racial preferences violate the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Last year, the CIR successfully challenged affirmative action policies at the University of Texas’ law school in the nationally watched Texas v. Hopwood case.

Michael McDonald, the president of the CIR, said, “This [Michigan] lawsuit should serve notice on college presidents everywhere that they will be held individually liable ... if they do not act now to bring their admissions policies into compliance with the law.”

In a written statement, University of Michigan President Lee C. Bollinger said that race and ethnicity is just one of several factors used in determining who gets into the highly selective school.

Bilingual Ed. Curb Backed

Californians--including the state’s Hispanics--overwhelmingly support a proposed ballot measure that would virtually dismantle bilingual education in the state, according to a statewide poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times.

Jaime Escalante

Sponsors of the English for the Children initiative are trying to garner enough signatures to put the plan before voters on next June’s ballot. Many education groups in the state oppose the initiative because they say it is too rigid.

The measure would require that most language-minority students be taught in English-immersion programs, then move into the mainstream with their native English-speaking peers. (“Plan To Curb Bilingual Ed. Progresses in Calif.,” Oct. 15, 1997.)

Initiative sponsors have argued that public opinion is on their side and that their proposal crosses racial, ethnic, and political lines. Last week, they announced that nationally known math teacher Jaime Escalante had joined the campaign as honorary chairman. The 1987 film “Stand and Deliver” depicted Mr. Escalante’s work with Hispanic students in an East Los Angeles high school.

Fatal Homecoming Shooting

This year’s homecoming football game ended abruptly for students at Lew Wallace High School in Gary, Ind., when a former student allegedly opened fire during the last few minutes of the game’s third quarter.

Gustavo McQuay, 18, has been charged with the Oct. 10 shooting, which claimed the life of Kellie Franklin, also 18, who graduated from the school last year. Two others were also wounded.

Mr. McQuay, who is being held without bail, last attended Wallace High School in 1993 but did not graduate, said Principal Clausell Harding.

A crisis team was in place last week to counsel the school’s 1,600 students.

“It is still not clear why he did this,” Mr. Harding said.

Charter Principal Sentenced

Mary A.T. Anigbo, the Washington charter school principal who was convicted in August of assaulting a reporter and two police officers, has been sentenced to two years’ probation.

In handing down the ruling last week, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Truman A. Morrison III ordered Ms. Anigbo to perform 240 hours of unspecified community service. She could have served up to 21 months in jail.

Ms. Anigbo was convicted of assaulting a reporter from The Washington Times, taking her notebook, and assaulting two police officers at Marcus Garvey Public Charter School last December.

Ms. Anigbo is appealing the decision and has said that she will sue the newspaper and the District of Columbia police.

Washington’s school board is considering revoking Marcus Garvey’s charter because the school’s board of directors has not disciplined Ms. Anigbo, who remains as principal. A school board hearing on the issue is scheduled for Nov. 3.

Three other employees of Marcus Garvey were also convicted of charges stemming from the incident. Each was sentenced to one year’s probation and has been ordered to perform 120 hours of community service.

First Brooks Headmaster Dies

Frank Davis Ashburn, who served as the first headmaster of the Brooks School in North Andover, Mass., for nearly half a century, died Oct. 2. in Westwood, Mass. He was 94.

A graduate of the Groton School in Groton, Mass., Mr. Ashburn was tapped at age 23 to be the founding headmaster of Brooks, a school modeled on his alma mater. The boarding school opened in 1927 to 14 boys, and Mr. Ashburn ran Brooks until retiring in 1973.

During his tenure, he wrote a biography of his mentor, the Rev. Endicott Peabody, the Groton headmaster who asked him to run the new school.

Now coed, the school Mr. Ashburn helped start serves some 440 boarding and day students.