News in Brief: A National Roundup

May 15, 2002 7 min read
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Chicago School Councils Sue Over Principal Picks

Two of Chicago’s local school councils have filed suit against district schools chief Arne Duncan and other officials, claiming the district is illegally trying to invalidate their recent selections of principals.

The panels of parents, community members, and teachers that help run Dulles and Marquette elementary schools filed separate lawsuits last month after receiving letters from the district’s general counsel.

Marilyn Johnson, the district lawyer, claimed the councils’ votes to choose new principals were invalid because one or more members were found to be ineligible to serve.

The councils’ lawyer, Elaine Siegel, contends the district flouted the legal principle outlined by state and federal courts that the actions of sitting elected officials cannot be invalidated retroactively.

Ms. Johnson said in an interview that her office investigated legal or procedural violations reported by third parties. “We have no agenda or interest in [the councils’] bottom-line decisionmaking,” she said. “Our job is to ensure the law is followed.”

—Catherine Gewertz

Hawaii Girl Wins Fight To Wear Pants to Graduation

A graduating high school senior in Hawaii won a fight against her high school over what she’ll wear under her graduation gown at her school’s May 31 commencement.

Ivy Ka’anana, a student at Baldwin High School in Wailuku, will wear slacks, not a dress, as had been mandated by school officials.

“I felt the girl was still honoring the graduation ceremony and still honoring the other students,” Maui district Superintendent Donna Whitford told the HonoluluStar-Bulletin. “She had to be true to herself.” Ms. Whitford sent a letter to the school principal effectively overturning the ban on girls’ wearing pants.

Last month, Ms. Ka’anana told school administrators that she doesn’t own a dress and hasn’t worn one since elementary school. The administrators pointed to the dress code, which states that girls must wear dresses and that boys must wear black slacks, a white shirt, and a tie at graduation.

Citing alleged gender discrimination, the American Civil Liberties Union in Hawaii threatened to file a lawsuit if school officials didn’t allow the senior to wear pants during the school’s graduation ceremonies.

—Rhea R. Borja

Calif. District Settles Lawsuit Over Graduation Speech

A California district has agreed to pay $59,000 to settle a 4-year-old case in which a student contended that school officials retaliated against his religion when they refused to let him deliver a graduation speech with a Christian theme.

Jason Niemeyer, the valedictorian of Oroville High School in 1999, had planned to speak to his peers on the benefits of a relationship with Jesus. School officials, however, refused to allow him to speak.

The 2,800-student Oroville Union High School District in northern California admitted no wrongdoing and chose to settle the case, even though it had won a similar case filed by Mr. Niemeyer’s brother, who had been co-valedictorian in 1998 and had planned to give the same speech. Mr. Niemeyer claimed his speech was rejected in retaliation for joining the lawsuit his brother filed.

Although the district was confident it could win, it was cheaper to settle the case, which was about to go to trial, said Christian M. Keiner, the lawyer representing the Oroville district.

—Joetta L. Sack

Memphis School Board Wants Uniforms for All

Memphis may become the nation’s first large urban school system to encourage all of its students to wear uniforms to school. Some cities already require younger students to wear uniforms.

School commissioners in the 117,000-student district voted 8-1 on May 6 to ask administrators to write a policy that would encourage school uniforms at all of its 175 schools. The school board intends to seek advice from parents and educators in the city before it approves a final policy this summer.

Members of the board made it clear they’d like to see most students in all of the city’s schools wearing uniforms by the start of the new school year in August.

The Memphis district estimates that one-third of its schools already encourage students to wear uniforms.

The 90,000-student Long Beach, Calif., system was a pioneer among major districts for requiring students in grades K-8 to wear uniforms, during the flurry of interest in such policies in recent years. The Council of the Great City Schools, based in Washington, says the Birmingham, Ala.; Chicago; Dayton, Ohio; Oakland, Calif.; and San Antonio public schools also require elementary-age students to wear uniforms.

—Alan Richard

N.Y.C. Teachers OK Strike Vote, But Continue Contract Talks

Frustrated by stalled contract talks with New York City officials, teachers and guidance counselors in the nation’s largest school system are considering a strike.

The United Federation of Teachers’ delegate assembly overwhelmingly authorized a strike vote during a May 7 meeting. The assembly, which includes representatives from all of the 1.1 million-student district’s schools, voted 1,640 to 8 to move forward with the vote this month. The final results should be known in early June.

If the union’s referendum is approved, a strike could be called up until the end of September. The UFT, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, represents more than 100,000 members, including guidance counselors and school secretaries.

The union, however, will continue contract negotiations with city officials to resolve the dispute. Union members have been working under the terms of the expired contract for 18 months.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Cheerleading Champs Stripped of National Title

The Osceola High School cheerleading squad in Kissimmee, Fla., has lost its national championship for having a student from another high school on its team.

The World Cheerleading Association stripped Osceola High’s Kowboys team of the title this month and gave the championship to the runner-up squad from Bowling Green, Ky.

A spokeswoman for the 38,000-student Osceola County district said the school system was investigating why cheerleading coach Kerri Collins allowed a senior from Ocean Springs High School in Ocean Springs, Miss., to compete with the Osceola team.

Ms. Collins was recognized by the World Cheerleading Association as the coach of the year, but now the St. Louis-based organization is in the process of deciding whether she will be allowed to keep the award.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

N.J. Superintendent Charged With Soliciting Bribe

A New Jersey school superintendent has been indicted on charges that he solicited a bribe from a company seeking to do business in his district.

Kenneth A. Kuchtyak was charged with official misconduct, bribery in official matters, and compensation for past official behavior, said a spokeswoman for the 12,900-student Woodbridge Township school district. He was indicted April 25 and was suspended without pay the same day, the spokeswoman said.

Middlesex County prosecutors allege that Mr. Kuchtyak solicited and then accepted a $3,000 bribe from a Philadelphia consulting company. They say he recommended that the board hire the firm, which it did, to find the best premiums and insurance for district workers.

Mr. Kuchtyak could not be reached for comment. He has been the superintendent since February 2001 and was suspended with pay last November after being arrested, the spokeswoman said. He has been an employee of the school district for nearly three decades.

—Michelle R. Davis

Mother of Truant Charged With Skipping Sentence

A Greenfield, Ohio, mother sentenced to attend high school with her oft-truant daughter has been charged with skipping class and has withdrawn her daughter for home schooling.

Debbie Waller, 37, was cited for lateness and spotty attendance during the first part of her 10-day sentence last month, which was handed down after she pleaded no contest to failure to send a child to school.

The mother subsequently pleaded not guilty to the charge of contributing to the unruliness of a minor, which carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. She has also appealed her original conviction.

Both the mother and her 15-year-daughter spent “very little” of the 10 days specified in the punishment at McClain High School in Greenfield, south of Columbus, said the school’s principal, Dan L. Strain. During that time, Ms. Waller was completing an application for home schooling with the Greenfield Exempted Village School District, which has now approved the request.

Ms. Waller’s lawyer had no comment.

—Bess Keller

A version of this article appeared in the May 15, 2002 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup


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