News in Brief: A National Roundup

October 29, 1997 7 min read

Florida District To Offer 2nd Elective Bible Class

A closely divided Lee County, Fla., school board voted last week to expand the teaching of Bible studies in the district’s eight high schools. Following up a course that was approved last summer, the board approved by a 3-2 vote the curriculum for a second class to be taught in the spring.

The board of the 46,000-student Gulf Coast district approved an elective course in the New Testament based on a curriculum developed by the Greensboro, N.C.-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.

In doing so, it ignored concerns expressed by the board’s lawyer that the course might cross the line between the separation of church and state, and thus could invite legal challenges. The district superintendent had proposed an alternative curriculum, which eliminated some lessons, such as one on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, to address those concerns.

Debate over the Bible-studies plan surfaced last spring when a board-appointed committee was developing a course in the Old Testament that will also be offered at the high schools in the spring. Critics argued that the board, especially members who were associated with the Christian Coalition, were trying to infuse religion into the curriculum. (“Proposed Bible-Studies Class Stirs Debate in Fla.,” June 18, 1997.)

But board members who supported such studies said they would take a historical approach that is permissible under the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down mandatory Bible reading and prayer in public schools.

Applicant Wins ADA Suit

A federal court jury has awarded $70,000 to a man who said he was denied a job as a math teacher at a Colorado high school because he has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair.

The Fort Morgan district violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when administrators passed over 27-year-old Lance Carr for the position at Fort Morgan High School, the jury in U.S. District Court in Denver found on Oct. 7.

Mr. Carr’s lawsuit said he applied for the full-time position in 1995 after completing a student-teaching stint at the high school. The suit alleged that the school’s principal had made fun of disabled students in the past and refused to interview Mr. Carr for the job.

Officials of the 3,000-student district contended that Mr. Carr did not get the job because he lacked professional classroom experience.

But the jury found that Mr. Carr was qualified for the position and awarded him $55,000 in back pay, $20,000 for lost future wages, and $10,000 in compensatory damages. The jury then scaled back that total by $15,000 because it found that Mr. Carr had not exhausted all opportunities to find a teaching job.

Mr. Carr’s lawyer said he plans to ask the judge to order the district to hire his client for the next open teaching position.

The district issued a statement saying it was considering an appeal.

Teacher To Lead NBPTS

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards celebrated its 10th anniversary last week with a White House ceremony and the election of Barbara B. Kelley, a physical education teacher at the Vine Street School in Bangor, Maine, as the first teacher to chair the group’s 63-member governing board. She had previously served as vice chair.

Ms. Kelley replaces Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina, who is now the founding chair. Mr. Hunt will continue to work with members of Congress and state lawmakers to build support for the voluntary certification system, which identifies outstanding teachers.

Since its founding, the privately organized board, based in Southfield, Mich., has set standards for accomplished teaching in 21 fields, created and administered performance assessments in seven fields, and assessed more than 2,000 teachers, 594 of whom earned national certification.

Eight states now pay nationally certified teachers higher salaries, 13 states pay the $2,000 certification fee, and 11 states recognize national certification as meeting continuing education requirements for teachers, according to the NBPTS. In addition, numerous school districts have created policies to support national certification; 28 districts, for example, either pay teachers’ fees or reimburse them.

Schools Liable for Beating

The Broward County, Fla., school board has been ordered to pay a disabled former student $6.3 million for injuries he sustained in a beating by another disabled student at a local high school.

The Circuit Court for the 7th Judicial Circuit in Broward County last month ordered the board to compensate the former student, Luis John Cruz, who has mental disabilities. In a 1993 incident, he was beaten by another mentally retarded student outside portable classrooms at Miramar High School.

The jury found the board liable after hearing from teachers about unsafe conditions at the school. Two teachers described an atmosphere in which robberies, harassment, and assaults were routine.

The Florida legislature must approve all liability awards of more than $100,000. The school board is appealing the decision, according to a board lawyer.

Dade County, Drivers Talk

Dade County, Fla., school officials and the union representing bus drivers, custodians, food-service workers, and security guards are back at the bargaining table, following a walkout by school bus drivers earlier in the month.

Almost 500 bus drivers abandoned their afternoon routes Oct. 10 to protest their wages and stalled contract negotiations. The walkout left thousands of students in the 331,000-student district dependent on parents for rides home, although some were picked up by working drivers making second runs or substitute drivers.

Contract talks broke down late last month after district officials offered a 1 percent salary raise. Hundreds of drivers are paid $5.15 an hour, the minimum wage.

Floyd County Chief Resigns

Superintendent Gene Davis of the Floyd County, Ky., schools has decided to resign, effective Oct. 31. His resignation comes just weeks after Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wilmer S. Cody announced that he was filing charges to remove the superintendent and the entire county school board.

The charges resulted from a state management audit completed last month showing the district in a state of disarray in how it manages its schools.

“When I took office [in March], I knew this district had serious financial problems,” Mr. Davis said in a letter to the citizens of Floyd County. “However, in an impossible situation such as this, a superintendent can accomplish no positive change.”

He also said in the letter that he did not have the support of all board members.

The state will drop the charges against the superintendent, but the charges against the school board are still pending, according to Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education.

Dade Eyes Reading Plan

Prompted in part by new and tougher state standards for student achievement, the Dade County, Fla., school district is creating what it calls a strategic plan to ensure that every student learns to read English on grade level by the 3rd grade.

Back to the Basics for the Constitution

A recent survey of 1,000 adults by the Philadelphia-based National Constitution Center found a lack of basic knowledge of U.S. government.

Percentage of U.S. citizens who don’t know that ...

The U.S. Constitution was written in 1787 81%
There are 435 voting members in the House of Representatives 77%
There are six years in a senator’s term 57%
There are two years in a representative’s term 55%
There are 100 senators 52%
The introduction to the U.S. Constitution is called the Preamble. 45%
There are three branches of government 41%
The U.S. Constitution was written in Philadelphia 39%
The first 10 amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights 34%
The president nominates the Supreme Court justices 30%

SOURCE: The National Constitution Center.

To date, the racially and ethnically diverse district, which includes Miami, has had no master plan for reading achievement and has left reading strategies up to principals and teachers, said Dr. Michael M. Krop, the Dade County school board member who introduced the proposal approved by the board this month.

But a new state law says that students may be retained at the end of 3rd grade if they don’t meet state or district levels of reading proficiency.

The Dade plan calls for students to be assessed regularly and receive intervention and tutoring if needed.

Students must also independently read a minimum number--as yet unspecified--of books each grading period and summer.

They must also attend summer school before entering the 2nd or 3rd grade if their progress is not acceptable.

Superintendent Roger Cuevas is to report back to the board Dec. 10 with details and a budget for the plan.

La. Funding Case Proceeds

Louisiana school districts and other plaintiffs that allege the state does not fulfill its constitutional duty to provide an adequate education will have their day in court, according to a state supreme court ruling this month.

The high court overturned an appeals court decision handed down in March that dismissed, on a legal point, a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of schools and students.

The plaintiffs argue that inadequate state funding for education has resulted in students lacking such essentials as pencils and textbooks and in school buildings being in dangerous states of disrepair.