News in Brief: A National Roundup

April 07, 1999 7 min read
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Religious-School Bus Aid Upheld by Ky. High Court

Jefferson County, Ky., may continue to pay 65 percent of the cost of busing students to religious schools in the county, the Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled.

The court said the $480,000 program serving Louisville and the surrounding area complies with state law because the money is sent to transportation companies, not directly to religious schools. And the payments are intended to protect the “health and welfare” of children, not to subsidize religious education, the court said in its 4-3 ruling last month.

The “incidental benefit” to the religious groups doesn’t violate federal or state requirements on separation of church and state, Justice J. William Graves wrote in the majority opinion.

But the dissenting justices argued that the county had not done enough to distinguish between government and church money. The subsidy--which is also available to secular private schools--simply provides money for a service the schools would provide anyway, Justice Robert F. Stephens wrote in one of two dissenting opinions.

--David J. Hoff

Detroit Mayor Names New Board

Mayor Dennis W. Archer of Detroit last week appointed a new school board made up of prominent local residents to guide reform in the city’s troubled school district.

Mr. Archer’s six choices included business executives, civic activists, a college president, and William Beckham, the head of New Detroit Inc., a civic and business organization that has increasingly pressed for change in the schools.

The mayor, a Democrat, signaled his intention to stay closely involved with the panel by including among its members Deputy Mayor Freman Hendrix. Completing the board is state schools Superintendent Arthur E. Ellis, who serves as a seventh member under the new state law that overhauled the district’s governance.

Under the sharply debated law passed by the Michigan legislature March 25, the mayor was required to appoint a new board within 30 days. Pushed by Republican Gov. John Engler, the law is aimed at improving Detroit’s schools. (“Mich. Lawmakers Approve Takeover Bill for Detroit,” March 31, 1999.)

The board now has 30 days to name a chief executive for the 184,000-student district.

--Bess Keller

Agency Ends Pension-Padding

At least 20 Colorado teachers are appealing their cases in response to a state pension-board decision that school systems may no longer encourage teachers to retire early by fattening their pensions.

In recent years, 26 of the state’s 176 districts have used “experience and longevity” awards, by which teachers’ salaries are raised temporarily by as much as 15 percent over three years just before their retirements. Because pension benefits are based on the highest salaries earned during an educator’s career, the practice raised teachers’ retirement incomes.

Critics argued that schools used the practice to replace highly paid, experienced teachers with lower-paid novices, and at the expense of the state retirement fund. The Public Employees Retirement Association of Colorado in January agreed that the awards amount to early-retirement inducements, which, by state law, shouldn’t figure in determining pensions.

About 1,300 teachers who had received pay increases with the incentive will get to keep their higher pensions.

--Jeff Archer

Phillips Academy Wins ADA Case

A student diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has lost a legal battle challenging his expulsion from Phillips Academy, the prestigious boarding school in Andover, Mass.

Senior Nicholas Axelrod Panagopoulos, 18, was on academic probation last fall when he received an unsatisfactory mark in a class. When the faculty voted to “require him to withdraw,” Mr. Panagopoulos’ mother filed a suit in federal district court, claiming the school had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

School officials argued in court that they had worked to accommodate the student’s disorder, but that he still failed to hand in assignments on time or to otherwise demonstrate adequate effort. Judge Edward F. Harrington, of the U.S. District Court in Boston, agreed last week that the school had not violated the ADA, and denied the student a permanent injunction, which would have allowed him to stay at the school.

--Jeff Archer

Compton Tries Grading Schools

Schools in Compton, Calif., will have to make the grade--literally--beginning next week.

All of the system’s 38 schools will be graded by the district in 12 areas, ranging from restroom cleanliness to parental involvement. The grades will then be posted at the front of the school for students, teachers, and community members to see. The grading system is part of an initiative to free the 36,000-student district from state control.

To get an A, a school must pass 11 out of 12 areas; schools need eight to 10 for a B; seven for a C; and six for a D. If a school does not pass at least six areas, it will be branded with an F.

Schools earning C’s or worse will have to work with district administrators to draft improvement plans.

--Marnie Roberts

Anti-Gun Rally Off-Limits

A Denver elementary school principal has been disciplined for allowing students to participate in an anti-gun rally.

School officials declined to specify what actions were taken against Martha Urioste, the principal of the Denison Montessori Elementary School, stating that the issue was a personnel matter. Ms. Urioste allowed more than two dozen 4th, 5th, and 6th graders from her 484-student school to sing at an anti-gun rally last month organized by Physicians for Social Responsibility. The event was held at Denver’s East High School.

Although the rally was held on campus during school hours, district officials did not permit students or staff members from the high school to attend the event. Ms. Urioste did not ask the district for permission to participate, but the elementary students did get permission from their parents to attend the rally, said Mark Stevens, a spokesman for the district.

The district allows the community to use its schools as sites for political events, but most are purposely held during the school day, he said, to avoid confusion about the involvement of students or employees in political causes.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Nude Photos Roil Colo. School

An assistant high school principal, accused of being the nude hunter posing with a dead antelope in photographs circulated at his Colorado school, has been vindicated. Instead, the photos were of his son, a security guard at the same school, Douglas County High School in suburban Denver.

The photos circulating in the 1,700-student school last month prompted several dozen students to protest at district offices. The students called the pictures pornography and argued they would have been disciplined if they had been caught with such photos in their possession. They also said that Principal Edna Doherty had asked them to keep the matter quiet.

District officials cleared the name of Assistant Principal Ron J. England and fired the security guard last week. The original claims about the administrator had been the subject of stories in several local newspapers.

Ms. Doherty, who maintains that she never asked students for silence on the matter, said that the photographs were stolen from the school guard’s desk, which is located in the high school’s detention room.

--Julie Blair

Three Die in Bus-Related Accidents

Three students died within a recent two-week span in a series of unrelated school bus accidents.

The 12-year-old son of the Quinton Township, N.J., schools superintendent was killed March 19 when a driver ran a stop sign and hit the boy’s school bus. Scott Agnew was an 8th grader at Woodlin Country Day School, a 150-student private school in Bridgeton, N.J. The 11 other students on the bus were treated for minor injuries. Charges against the driver of the car are pending the results of a toxicology report, according to a sheriff’s office spokesman.

Christopher J. “C.J.” Reece, a 5-year-old kindergartner from the 150-student Weir (Kan.) Attendance Center, was struck and killed by a car March 17 as he crossed the road to board his school bus. The car’s driver has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Mary Gregory, a 5-year-old kindergartner from the 400-student Rock River Elementary School in Rockford, Ill., was killed March 9 when she fell under the right front tire of her bus after she and her brother were let off in front of their house, according to a district spokesman. No charges have been filed.

--Michelle Galley


Henry V. Graham, the National Guard major general who confronted Gov. George C. Wallace to enforce the integration of the University of Alabama, died March 21 from Parkinso’s disease. He was 82.

Gen. Graham was chosen June 11, 1963, to approach Gov. Wallace and ask him to step aside from the doorway to the auditorium and allow two black students to enter the University of Alabama.

Mr. Graham, who was retired after owning his own real estate company, was involved with several major actions in the civil rights movement during the 1960s, including escorting Freedom Riders from Montgomery, Ala., to the Mississippi state line and escorting voting-rights marchers from Selma to Montgomery after the “Bloody Sunday” incident in Selma.

--Candice Furlan

A version of this article appeared in the April 07, 1999 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup


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