Education

News in Brief: A National Roundup

May 23, 2001 5 min read
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Fla. Teen Convicted of Teacher’s Murder

A 14-year-old Florida boy was convicted of second-degree murder last week for fatally shooting his teacher.

Nathaniel Brazill was found guilty by a nine-man, three woman jury in the May 26, 2000, slaying of Barry Grunow, a teacher at Lake Worth Middle School in Lake Worth. Mr. Brazill, then a 13-year-old honor student with no previous criminal record, shot Mr. Grunow, 35, in a school hallway as other students looked on.

A sentencing hearing is set for June 29, at which time Mr. Brazill could face 25 years to life in prison. The case attracted national attention, highlighting the twin themes of school violence and the prosecution of juveniles as adults.

Prosecutors had sought a verdict of first-degree murder, which would have carried a mandatory life sentence. The defense had pressed for a manslaughter conviction.

Robert G. Udell, a defense lawyer for Mr. Brazill, expressed disappointment with the jury’s May 16 verdict. “The argument we gave was that his actions fit the definition of manslaughter, which is culpable negligence rather than a devious mind,” Mr. Udell said.

—Mark Stricherz


Columbine Report Faults Schools

Law-enforcement and school officials failed to heed warning signs of the violent tendencies of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris before their 1999 rampage at Columbine High School, according to a report issued last week by a panel named by Gov. Bill Owens of Colorado.

The 174-page report by the Columbine Review Commission concludes that “there clearly had been actions and the accumulation of data ... extending over many months that indicated [the two students’] dangerousness.”

The commission, led by a former chief justice of the Colorado supreme court, re-examined facts and offered lessons for avoiding incidents like the April 20, 1999, episode in the 89,000-student Jefferson County, Colo., school district.

The report cited a violent school essay written by Mr. Klebold as among the missed warning signs, although it devotes more attention to the failure by Jefferson County law-enforcement officials to follow up on threats made by the pair against another Columbine student.

Marilyn Saltzman, a spokeswoman for the district, called the report “thoughtful and comprehensive.” She said a teacher correctly reported her concerns about Mr. Klebold’s essay to a school counselor, but school officials could not have predicted the violence that the two students later carried out.

The report calls for schools to encourage students to report fears of potential violence by their peers, and it recommends the adoption of bullying-prevention programs. But the commission expressed doubts about installing metal detectors and other security technology in schools. The report is available online at www.state.co.us/columbine/.

— Mark Walsh



ACLU Sues Over T-Shirt Ban in Ga.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia has filed a lawsuit in a federal district court on behalf of nine middle and high school students from Seminole County who have been told they can no longer wear shirts that display the Confederate battle flag to school.

The lawsuit asks that students be allowed to wear the shirts in a “nondisruptive way.”

Larry Bryant, the superintendent of the 2,000-student district, said that the issue is not the symbol itself. He said he is trying to avoid a double standard.

“When black children have worn offensive shirts, we’ve told them not to wear them back,” he said, adding that because the display of the Confederate symbol is such a sensitive issue, he doesn’t think the T-shirts could be worn in a nondisruptive way.

Controversies over the emblem have increased since the Georgia legislature voted earlier this year to change the state flag. The Confederate emblem now appears on a much smaller scale at the bottom of the flag.

A hearing on the case is expected early next month.

—Linda Jacobson


Official Pleads Guilty to Stealing

Richard H. Davis, the former business administrator for the Wyckoff, N.J., school district, has pleaded guilty to embezzlement and an IRS reporting violation. The admissions cost Mr. Davis his job.

Mr. Davis was charged with stealing $1.7 million from the 2,200-student district over seven years, according to Tom Howard, a special counsel in the matter for the school board.

Mr. Davis pleaded guilty to both charges in the U.S. District Court in Newark on May 3. The district filed a civil case in February against Mr. Davis and others believed to be involved in the embezzlement scheme, charging them with embezzling $2.5 million, Mr. Howard said. (“Embezzlement Suit Filed in N.J.,” Feb. 28, 2001.)

Mr. Davis had been suspended without pay since January, when the district began proceedings to revoke his tenure. By pleading guilty to the felony charge, Mr. Davis automatically terminated his employment with the district.

—Vanessa Dea


Girl Wins Abuse Damages

A federal judge last week awarded an Illinois student more than $110,000 in a civil lawsuit against a former coach who she said had sexually abused her from 1994 to 1997.

U.S. District Judge James L. Foreman awarded the teenager, who was not identified, $50,000 in compensatory damages, $50,000 in punitive damages, and $10,464 for medical and counseling expenses.

At the time of the alleged offenses, the coach, Brad Dillman, worked at Herrin Middle School in Herrin, a community of 11,000 residents in southern Illinois.

Mr. Dillman, who has not been criminally charged, went on to coach girls’ basketball at Marion High School in Marion, Ill. His contract for next school year was not renewed, according to John Harland, the school’s principal.

Mr. Dillman did not return a call for comment.

—Ann Bradley


Boy Kills Self at School

A 16-year-old Texas student shot and killed himself last week after taking 18 students and a teacher hostage.

Jay Douglas Goodwin, a sophomore at the 1,300-student Ennis High School outside of Dallas, walked into an English class, pulled a .357- caliber Magnum handgun from a backpack, and told the class to get against the wall, police said.

Teacher Andrea Webb negotiated with the boy and managed to get him to release all but one girl, also a sophomore, whom Mr. Goodwin apparently thought of as a girlfriend, police said.

Despite Ms. Webb’s entreaties, the student fired a round into a television set in the classroom before turning the handgun on himself, said Lt. Ron Woark of the Ennis police department.

—Marianne Hurst


UC Drops Ban on Preferences

In a mostly symbolic move, the regents of the University of California voted last week to drop their ban on racial preferences in admissions.

The 22-0 vote by the regents rescinds their controversial 1995 policy, but it does not affect a 1996 state ballot initiative, Proposition 209, that barred such affirmative action in all state agencies. The regents said the May 16 vote was meant to dispel perceptions that prospective minority students are unwelcome in the UC system.

Trey Davis, a spokesman for the university system, said the vote “represents a symbol that the regents are committed to diversity.”

—Mark Stricherz

A version of this article appeared in the May 23, 2001 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup

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