News in Brief: A National Roundup

March 29, 2000 5 min read

Federal Suit Over Abuse Settled in Massachusetts

The city of Worcester, Mass., has settled a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of three autistic and severely retarded children who were abused by their teacher at the City View School Annex.

The city of Worcester, Mass., has settled a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of three autistic and severely retarded children who were abused by their teacher at the City View School Annex.

The suit, settled for $1.5 million March 16, was filed almost three years ago and included claims of negligence and civil rights violations.

The children were students in Halina Suitum’s class for three years. During that time, parents and teachers’ aides claim, Ms. Suitum physically and emotionally abused the three children and their classmates.

According to Michael Weisman, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, the aides say they repeatedly informed school officials of the abuse. The city only acknowledges that abuse occurred in September and October 1994, according to City Solicitor David Moore.

Ms. Suitum, who was removed from the class in October 1994 after an aide kept a written log of the incidents, was convicted in June 1996 on 13 counts of assault and battery. She served 10 months of her 21/2-year sentence.

—Naomi Greengrass

Storms Hit Ala. School Again

Lightning has figuratively struck twice in Oak Grove, Ala., where storms that ripped through the area this month caused major damage to a high school that is being built to replace one leveled by tornadoes two years ago. (“No Storm Damage To Spirit of Alabama Town and School,” Nov. 10, 1999.) According to Wilford C. Sisk, the director of new construction for the 42,000-student Jefferson County school district, the partially built roof was hardest hit by the storm—50,000 square feet of the roof surface was blown off, exposing the school’s auditorium and two gyms.

Other parts of the $16 million school under construction were also damaged, Mr. Sisk said. Glass windows that lined a walkway between the main building in the high school and the building that will house the band, choir, and art departments were blown out by the storm’s high winds.

The exact cost of the damage is still being assessed by insurance adjusters, according to Mr. Sisk. District officials plan to use the new classrooms, lunchroom, library, and office starting in the fall.

—Michelle Galley

Donor Extends K-12 Fellowships

One of the nation’s largest philanthropies will renew a program for Washington-area teachers and students to conduct medical research at the National Institutes of Health.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute announced last week that it would spend $1.5 million over the next 31/2 years to place Montgomery County, Md., students and teachers at the NIH for summer experiences.

Under the program, which began in 1990, teachers must write lesson plans about the research project they will teach the following year.

In announcing the renewal of the Montgomery County program, the institute also said it would give $100,000 to create a similar program for a Prince George’s County, Md., high school.

The money also will pay for professional development at Eleanor Roosevelt High School—that county’s magnet school for science instruction.

The Chevy Chase, Md., philanthropy has an endowment of $11.5 billion and makes grants of $100 million for education programs every year.

—David J. Hoff

Officials Teach During Strike

Rather than let a teachers’ strike delay graduation for their seniors, administrators in a western Pennsylvania district ran a scaled-down high school program for 12th graders last week.

The crisis began March 13, when Bethel Park public school teachers walked off the job following the breakdown of contract negotiations with the 5,500-student district near Pittsburgh.

When it appeared that the strike would enter a second week, district officials worried that seniors would not get the state-required 180 days of instruction by their scheduled June 11 graduation. So they quickly organized a temporary high school program, taught by administrators, in which the 12th graders went to school for four hours a day, attending classes in English, mathematics, social studies, and physical education.

The contract dispute has centered on pay, health benefits, and a district proposal to have high school educators teach an additional period each day. Negotiations continued late last week.

Administrators vowed to keep school open for the seniors for the duration of the strike.

—Jeff Archer

Limits Seen Helping Teen Drivers

Graduated driver-licensing programs that include passenger restrictions are the best safety protection for teenage drivers, a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says.

The study in the March 22 issue concludes that the risk of fatal injury for both male and female drivers age 16 or 17 increases with the number of passengers in the car.

The report suggests that “restrictions on carrying passengers should be considered for inclusion in graduated licensing systems for young drivers.”

Risky driving, alcohol consumption, and driving at night are major causes of automobile accidents among youths, the authors say.

Teenage drivers constitute 7 percent of the driving population, but account for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

—Mark Jennings

CDF Tracks Extreme Poverty

While the number of children living in poverty fell for the fifth consecutive year in 1998, to 13.5 million, the one-fifth of American children still living below the poverty line are getting poorer, according to “The State of America’s Children,” an annual report by the Children’s Defense Fund.

Despite the nation’s economic prosperity, 26 percent of children who were poor in 1998 lived in extreme poverty, up from 21 percent in 1996, the report released last week says.

Meanwhile, 17 states failed to spend some $100 million in federal welfare aid over the past three years. “This [money] could be used immediately to provide child care to mothers who are struggling and working odd hours,” said Marian Wright Edelman, the president of the Washington-based children’s advocacy group.

Forty-two percent of low-income 3- to 5-year-olds are in preschool, compared to 65 percent of wealthier children, the report says. The nation’s wealthiest school districts spend 56 percent more per student than the poorest districts.

“We have a values problem in America,” Ms. Edelman argued. “How come the richest country on earth can’t take care of its children?”

—Robert C. Johnston

Selected Characteristics of Persons Under Age 18 Admitted to State Prison, 1985-97

A version of this article appeared in the March 29, 2000 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup