News in Brief: A National Roundup

May 17, 2000 6 min read

Md. School Drug Testing Challenged by ACLU Staff

Eighteen Maryland high school students who had to submit to drug testing because they attended an off-campus party that administrators believed involved illegal drug use have sued their school district. The students and their parents, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that the mandatory drug testing violated their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.

The students were detained in the auditorium at Easton (Md.) High School Jan. 18 and were threatened with suspension if they did not provide a urine sample, according to the suit against the 4,500-student Talbot County school district and four school officials. All the students tested negative except one, who was suspended until a private drug test paid for by his parents proved negative. The lawsuit contends that the drug testing “was not based on reasonable, individualized suspicion that the students were violating” school rules. Edmund O’Meally, the lawyer for the district, said school officials “feel they did have individual suspicion.” A May 24 hearing is scheduled in the case in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

—Mark Walsh

Ky. Judge Bars Commandments

A federal judge has ordered a Kentucky school district to stop displaying the Ten Commandments, pending her decision in a lawsuit arguing that the display violates the U.S. Constitution.

The 5,500-student Harlan County district posted the commandments in its schools after the board passed a resolution declaring that the principles in them served an important secular purpose. After the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky filed suit last fall seeking to remove the display, officials added historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence and highlighted their religious references.

U.S. District Judge Jennifer B. Coffman, based in London, Ky., ruled May 5 that the Ten Commandments “are a distinctly religious document” and that the display emphasized the religious nature of the other documents, thus violating the constitutional prohibition on a government establishment of religion. Judge Coffman will hear arguments at a later date before reaching a final decision in the case.

—David J. Hoff

Columbine Student Mourned

More than 2,000 people attended a funeral service last week for a basketball star from Colorado’s Columbine High School who committed suicide early this month. Greg Barnes, a 17-year-old junior, had witnessed the fatal wounding of Columbine teacher Dave Sanders and lost a close friend, Matt Kechter, as a result of the multiple shootings at the school just over a year ago.

Mr. Barnes hanged himself May 4 in his family’s garage after setting a CD player to play a song including the lyrics, “I’m too depressed to go on,” according to the Denver Post.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Leaders Revisit Boston Compact

Representatives of Boston’s business, education, labor, and municipal sectors have pledged to help the city’s 63,000 students meet new and more rigorous state academic standards, including a high school exit exam beginning in 2003, and to create more opportunities for students after high school. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Boston Teachers Union President Edward J. Doherty, and Boston schools Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant were among nine city leaders who last month signed the updated Boston Compact, a declaration of collaboration in support of the city’s schools. The agreement marks the latest version of the nationally known compact, which has been revised four times in its 18-year history.

—Robert C. Johnston

HISD Starting Pre-K English

This summer, for the first time, the Houston Independent School District will offer bilingual education for Spanish-speaking prekindergartners. The monthlong program, which begins June 5, will give children a head start on learning English and help get them familiar with a classroom setting, according to Noelia Graza, a bilingual/English-as-a-second-language program manager. The program is part of a comprehensive bilingual education plan for the 211,000-student district that will increase the time spent teaching English.

Some members of the Hispanic community have criticized the plan as being similar to Proposition 227, the California ballot initiative that has sharply reduced bilingual education programs in that state.

—Linda Jacobson

Cheating Inquiry Cites Teachers

The special investigator for the New York City schools has accused eight more educators of leading students to cheat on state and city standardized exams. The educators, from seven city schools, join a list of 52 others from 32 schools named in an initial report on cheating issued last December by Special Commissioner Edward F. Stancik, an independent city appointee. Half the new cases occurred after the release of that report, and after the school board for the 1.1 million-student district—the nation’s largest—sought to strengthen test security.

The May 2 report details such instances of alleged cheating as teachers’ leaving answers to test questions where students could “find” them and prompting students to change answers. The report recommends firing three teachers and disciplining four others.

—Bess Keller

Gift Reaps Bay Area Rewards

San Francisco-area schools that benefited from one of the largest private gifts to the nation’s schools are showing student performance that outpaces that of other California schools, an independent analysis released last week says.

The “leadership schools” in the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative have recorded faster growth on the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition than schools throughout the state, according to Stanford University researchers hired to evaluate the program. High-poverty schools in the San Francisco Bay-area group made the greatest gains on the Stanford-9. The collaborative started as one of the first five urban areas to receive money from the retired publisher and diplomat Walter H. Annenberg’s $500 million gift to public schools. It also has received $25 million from the Hewlett family.

—David J. Hoff

District’s LEP Services Faulted

The office for civil rights of the U.S. Department of Education has found that a California school district violated federal laws in how it served limited-English-proficient children after passage of Proposition 227, the 1998 ballot initiative that replaced most bilingual education programs in the state with one-year English-immersion programs.

Federal investigators found that the 9,000-student Pittsburg district near Oakland, Calif., didn’t provide adequate programs for all LEP students to learn English or academic coursework after Proposition 227 became effective. The federal investigation, along with an inquiry by the state education department, was carried out in response to complaints filed by parents that LEP students were being neglected. (“Calif. District Criticized Over Services for LEP Students,” March 29, 2000.)

Alicia Romero, the districts language arts and English-language coordinator, acknowledged that LEP services were “thin” after Proposition 227, but said Pittsburg was not alone in its confusion.

—Mary Ann Zehr


Alonzo A. Crim, a former superintendent of the Atlanta public schools, died May 3 of injuries sustained in an automobile accident in that city. He was 71.Mr. Crim, who held the Atlanta post from 1973 until 1988, was the first African-American to head a major Southern school system. During his tenure, attendance and graduation rates in the system markedly increased.

He began his career in education as a mathematics and science teacher in Chicago. He also served as an elementary and high school principal in Chicago, and as the superintendent of schools there and in Compton, Calif. At the time of his death, he was a professor of education at Spelman College in Atlanta.

—Naomi Greengrass

A version of this article appeared in the May 17, 2000 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup