News in Brief: A National Roundup

November 22, 2000 6 min read

Safety Panel Issues Warnings on Bus Doors

A government safety panel said last week that school bus emergency doors with protruding handles or latches should be redesigned and that bus seat-cushion bottoms should be installed with fail-safe latching devices.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued its recommendations in the wake of a school bus accident in Schoharie County, N.Y., in October of last year that injured 35 passengers.

The panel warned of potential injuries to passengers sitting next to side emergency exits during side-impact or rollover accidents. It also noted that passengers in the New York accident may have sustained more severe injuries because the seat-cushion bottoms were unlatched.

The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services should ask its members to consider not placing children in seats adjacent to emergency exit doors, the board said. It also asked that the group inform members of the hazards of not properly latching cushions.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Buffalo, N.Y., Teachers Fined

Teachers in Buffalo, N.Y., are paying a high price for striking this fall.

Under New York state law, the district is allowed to penalize teachers by withholding two days’ pay as a “strike fee” for each day spent on the picket lines. The strike, held Sept. 7 and 14, cost the 4,000 educators $2.4 million, said Philip Rumore, the president of the Buffalo Teachers Union.

The teachers will earn $2.7 million in salary increases this year under the new pact.

The strike was well worth the price, Mr. Rumore said, because teachers will earn larger salaries over the life of the five-year contract.

Mr. Rumore was held in contempt of court and served eight days in jail for leading the strike. He and two other top union officials were each fined $1,000.

—Julie Blair

Licensing Program Expands

New York City school leaders plan to expand a program for quick licensing of teachers, in part to meet a state-imposed deadline for eliminating the use of unlicensed teachers at more than 90 schools deemed to be among the state’s worst-performing.

The New York City Teaching Fellows program put some 320 recruits through a summer crash course before placing them in a classroom for the first time this fall. Participants were lured, in part, by $2,000 scholarships and by the promise that the district would help them pay for earning a master’s degree, which they must begin working toward once on the job.

Harold O. Levy, the New York City schools chancellor, now says the teaching-fellows program will be opened up to 1,500 recruits next year. While most will receive their training during the summer, 100 candidates will be trained this winter, so they can soon go to work in buildings designated by the state as “schools under registration review” because of low test scores.

According to an agreement brokered in August between the district and state education officials, the 1.1-million student district must discontinue employing unlicensed teachers in such schools by next school year.

—Jeff Archer

D.C. Mayor Picks Board Members

Mayor Anthony A. Williams of the District of Columbia last week named four members to the city’s new school board, including the prominent civil rights activist Roger Wilkins.

The mayor’s choices marked the latest step in a series of governance changes that began in June, when Washington voters approved his plan to trim the board from 11 elected members to nine members, four of whom he would appoint.

On Election Day, city voters chose the five elected representatives, installing two candidates endorsed by the mayor, including the new board president.

In addition to Mr. Wilkins, a professor of history and American culture at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Mr. Williams appointed Laura Gardner, a professor of student development at Montgomery College in Montgomery County, Md.; Charles R. Lawrence III, a professor of law at Georgetown University in Washington; and Robert Peck, an urban planner and a Public Building Service commissioner for the U.S. General Services Administration.

The District of Columbia Council must confirm the appointments.

—Robert C. Johnston

N.C. Town Chips In for Schools

The Town Council of Cary, N.C., began distributing some $3.7 million from a budget surplus to 43 of 122 Wake County public schools this month. The suburb of Raleigh is the first municipality in the state to pitch in money for education.

The council paid schools $200 for each student who resides in Cary as part of its “economic development through education” initiative.

Cary officials had proposed the payments last spring, saying the state and the county were not doing enough to improve public schools. Some 18,500 Cary children attend the 98,000-student Wake County district. “N.C. Town Forms Foundation To Give More to Schools,” May 17, 2000.)

Many of the schools will use the money to pay for computers, professional development, additional staffing, and reading instruction.

Over the past several years, Cary has been prospering, in part because of the success of technology companies located within town limits.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Boston Pupils Await Books

With some 4,000 Boston 4th graders still lacking some of their textbooks, district officials assured City Council members last week that the problem would be fixed by early December.

Most of the city’s 130 public schools began the academic year without social studies texts, including teachers’ guides, traditional textbooks, and trade books that focus on single topics. But many of the schools received their missing books over the past month, said Tracy M. Lynch, a spokeswoman for the district.

The shortage is now confined mostly to the 63,500-student district’s elementary schools, she said.

The book problem stemmed from district officials’ uncertainty over state history standards, which are slated for changes next spring. In the hope of satisfying the current guidelines and anticipating any changes, the district ordered from 27 different publishers, Ms. Lynch said.

Related paperwork and contract negotiations meant books took longer to get to classrooms. However, Ms. Lynch said, this was the first such delay and the final purchase in the district’s five-year, $11 million acquisition of textbooks in all subjects.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Schools Ban ‘Energy’ Drinks

“Energy- enhancing” drinks have been banned at two high schools in Burbank, Calif., after two student athletes fell ill.

The students, who attend the 2,140- student John Burroughs High School, experienced prolonged high heart rates and nearly fainted last month after consuming such drinks. Both students had to be rushed to local doctors.

Their school and the neighboring 2,300-student Burbank High School have banned energy drinks that carry warning labels stating that the products are not to be used by minors.

Drinking more than one bottle of Speed Stack, one such drink not intended for children, may result in heart attack, stroke, seizure, or death, according to the manufacturer, American Body Building of Walterboro, S.C.

Jay Gudzin, the assistant principal for athletics and activities at John Burroughs, said the drinks are not sold on either campus.

Students who are caught with the energy-enhancing drinks will not be punished, he said, but will be counseled on the potentially dangerous side effects of such products.

—Michelle Galley

Teacher’s Car Is Set Afire

A Chicago high school student has been charged with felony arson and criminal damage to property after allegedly vandalizing and setting fire to his teacher’s car.

The accused Kennedy High School student, Daniel Cummings, 17, was originally believed to been reacting to a teacher’s involvement in a gay- straight student alliance, according to Jeff Burdick, a spokesman for the Chicago school system. The windshield of Tina Beacock’s car was smashed in the late afternoon of Nov. 3. Early the next morning, firemen responded to a call that her car was on fire.

According to Mr. Burdick, Mr. Cummings told police that he had acted because of a bad grade Ms. Beacock had given him. The student was suspended for 10 days, starting Nov. 13, and the district has moved to expel him. Ms. Beacock is pressing charges against him, Mr. Burdick said.

— Vanessa Dea

A version of this article appeared in the November 22, 2000 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup