News in Brief: A National Roundup

October 20, 1999 6 min read

‘Zero Tolerance’ Under Fire in Ill. Expulsion Dispute

The expulsion of seven boys for fighting at a high school football game in Decatur, Ill., is drawing protests.

Adhering to a “zero tolerance” approach the 11,000-student district implemented last fall, the Decatur school board this month expelled the students for two years for the Sept. 17 fight, which involved no weapons or serious injuries. The students are from Eisenhower High School, where the fight took place, and two other high schools.

Valerie Johnson, the national education spokeswoman for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, a Chicago-based group that has helped organize local opposition to the decision, said the punishment was too harsh. Under state law, school districts may deny admission to students expelled from other districts.

At an Oct. 12 school board meeting, community members posed questions about the decision but received no response from board members, Ms. Johnson said. She deemed the silence “insulting.”

Assistant Superintendent Elmer McPherson said the board was considering working with Rainbow/PUSH and local citizens to find alternative educational arrangements for the students, but would not rescind its decision.

--Meghan Mullan

Educators Recycle Raises

Teachers in Waterbury, Conn., are giving back part of their recent salary increase so the 15,000-student district can put $600,000 toward the purchase of textbooks, computers, and other instructional materials.

The Waterbury Teachers Association offered to make the contribution during negotiations over a new four-year contract, in which they won 2 percent-a-year raises. The union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, agreed that for each of the first two years of the contract, an amount equal to about $300 per teacher would go toward the total. The money is being matched by the city, which is one of the state’s largest and poorest.

Although $450,000 of the total fund will be distributed later this fall to Waterbury schools based on the number of students served, the $150,000 remaining will be divided up as a reward to those schools that show improvement on statewide tests.

District Superintendent Roger A. Damerow acknowledged that Waterbury is not a high-performing district. The salary giveback, he said, is an effort by the teachers to demonstrate their commitment.

--Jeff Archer

N.Y. Reports High Passing Rate

Ninety-three percent of New York state’s high school seniors have passed the state English test--a hurdle they need to clear before graduating next spring.

The passing rate for the regents’ exam in English is much higher than in other states that have recently started so-called high-stakes testing programs.

But the low participation rate may be a contributing factor to the success of students on the test, which is a requirement for graduation for the first time this spring.

About one-third of students who entered high school with the class of 2000 did not sit for the exam last spring because they had been held back or had dropped out, state officials said in releasing the results last week.

Almost 19,000 of the 24,590 who did not take the exam were enrolled in New York City. Of the 35,460 New York City students who took the test, 84 percent passed.

--David J. Hoff

Bribery Charges Pending

Prosecutors will decide soon whether to file charges against Anchorage, Alaska, school district employees who are under suspicion in a scheme of bribery and other illegal on-the-job favors. Police investigated after officials of the 50,000-student system were alerted of the possible wrongdoing earlier this year, and the police report is now with prosecutors.

The potential charges involve a single department within the school system and a small group of employees suspected of exchanging favors for jobs or promotions, district spokeswoman Michelle Egan said.

--Alan Richard

‘Boot Camp’ for Hard Cases

A Wyoming district has adopted a policy allowing corporal punishment and a form of boot camp as student disciplinary measures.

District leaders last year began discussing how to address serious behavioral problems, according to Larry Heslep, an associate superintendent of the Campbell County schools in Gillette, Wyo. The 6,700-student district decided to allow corporal punishment, to let schools use out-of-school suspensions more freely, and to add a boot-camp-style program-- called Specialized Treatment and Rehabilitation--for students in 6th through 12th grade.

Held at Campbell County High School South Campus, the program--run by two county education employees with law-enforcement and military backgrounds--requires parents’ permission. Mr. Heslep said 11 students are currently taking part in the 10-week boot camp.

--Candice Furlan

Campaign Targets Youth Violence

The Family Career and Community Leaders of America, formerly known as the Future Homemakers of America, has launched a federally financed campaign against violence in school.

Called STOP (Students Taking On Prevention) the Violence, the initiative trains students to recognize warning signs of violence and learn how to react.

The program has received a $1.5 million grant from the Community Oriented Policing Services division of the U.S. Department of Justice to implement pilot programs in 11 states. It is expected to train more than 5,000 students in the coming year.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Vandalism Leads to Charges

Sixteen students from Greenwood Community High School in suburban Indianapolis are facing criminal charges for allegedly vandalizing the car of a classmate who wrote a school newspaper column criticizing the football team.

Fifteen students--all male, and several of whom are members of the football team--have been charged with felony criminal mischief and conspiracy to commit mischief at the 1,200-student school in the Oct. 5 incident, according to Johnson County Prosecutor Lance D. Hamner. They face up to 180 days of detention, community service, and fines of $2,000. An 18-year-old student has been charged as an adult with criminal mischief and faces up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine, Mr. Hamner said.

In addition to the “substantial damage” sustained by the student columnist’s car, the group has been charged with vandalizing the school and several other cars that night, Mr. Hamner said, and the combined incidents add up to total damages of about $30,000.

--Kerry A. White

State Oversight Extended

The state of Connecticut will continue to oversee the 25,000-student Hartford public schools for at least another 2 1/2 years.

The state school board voted unanimously this month to extend stewardship of the district’s state-appointed board of trustees, which was installed in 1997 after the legislature authorized the takeover. Although the intervention was originally intended to last until June 2000, the takeover legislation included an option for a 24- month extension.

Since the intervention, the district has worked to straighten out its long- standing financial and operational problems, but a new superintendent hired just six months ago needs time to carry out his school improvement agenda, said Robert Furek, who chairs the oversight panel. The superintendent and his team need to know that the system’s management is stable, Mr. Furek said.

--Jeff Archer

School Board To Appeal Ruling

A divided Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., school board has voted to appeal the recent court ruling that declared the district “unitary.”

The board voted 5-4 to challenge the decision last month by U.S. District Judge Robert D. Potter to end busing and integration policies set in motion by the historic case Swann v. Charlotte- Mecklenburg Board of Education. In his Sept. 9 opinion, the judge said the 99,000-district had eliminated all vestiges of its dual system of racially segregated schools. (“Federal Judge Declares Charlotte-Mecklenburg Unitary,” Sept. 22, 1999.)

According to the board majority, the court’s injunction against race- conscious admissions is a hindrance as the board attempts to address ongoing inequities between the district’s predominantly white, suburbanschools and the inner-city schools attended by most of its 40,000 black students.

--Kathleen Kennedy Manzo