News in Brief: A National Roundup

April 19, 2000 5 min read

Suit Blaming Violent Media for Ky. Rampage Dismissed

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the families of three students killed in the Dec. 1, 1997, school shootings in West Paducah, Ky., against 21 entertainment firms whose movies, Internet sites, and video games allegedly helped motivate the violence.

Michael Carneal, 14 at the time of the incident at Heath High School, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years.

On April 6, U.S. Senior District Judge Edward H. Johnstone of Paducah dismissed all the claims against the media companies, which included Time Warner Inc., Nintendo of America Inc., and Sega of America Inc., saying they could not be held negligent because Mr. Carneal’s actions were not foreseeable.

Michael Breen, the lawyer representing the families of Jessica James, Kayce Steger, and Nicole M. Hadley, said the ruling would be appealed.

—Mark Walsh

New Jersey Suspensions Questioned

The suspensions of four New Jersey kindergartners who allegedly pointed their fingers like guns and shouted “bang” at other pupils during recess are drawing criticism.

The parents of one of the students are prepared to sue the Sayerville school district unless the disciplinary action is erased from their child’s record, said John W. Whitehead, the president of the Rutherford Institute, a public-interest law firm in Charlottesville, Va., that is representing the family. He said the three-day suspensions for the March 15 incident were too severe.

Dennis Fyffe, the assistant superintendent of the 5,300-student district, said disciplinary actions in general are not part of students’ formal records, although the 450-student Wilson School’s principal keeps a private, written record of such incidents.

—Robert C. Johnston

Dallas Year-Round Plan Revived

The Dallas school board has reversed a decision to kill the year-round schedule currently in use at 10 city schools.

The original decision, made last spring, was to take effect in the coming school year. Instead, the unanimous vote earlier this month will allow two additional schools to join the 10 with nontraditional schedules, if there are takers.

Two years ago, the 156,000-student Dallas Independent School District had about 25 schools on year-round schedules, but schools have been dropping out of the program.

Students at the year-round schools attend classes for the same number of days as other students, but have a shorter break in the summer and longer ones the rest of the year. Superintendent Waldemar “Bill” Rojas wanted to add 20 days to the year-round school calendar to help raise student achievement, but in the end, officials said the district couldn’t afford the change.

—Bess Keller

N.C. Same-Sex Classes Dropped

A North Carolina school district has ended an experiment with single-sex classrooms in one middle school after the American Civil Liberties Union made a discrimination complaint to the U.S. Department of Education.

Three teachers at Parkwood Middle School, motivated by research suggesting that boys receive more attention in coeducational classrooms, began the experiment last fall. But the state ACLU chapter told district officials the single-sex classes violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational programs receiving federal funds.

Deborah Ross, the executive director of the ACLU chapter, said that after the district failed to respond to her organization, she filed a complaint with the Education Department’s office for civil rights. Barry Aycock, the 20,000-student Union County district’s assistant superintendent for administration, said the complaint would have led the district to drop the classes if they had not been discontinued in March.

—Mark Walsh

Whistleblowers Get $1 Million

A Kentucky judge has awarded more than $1 million in damages to two teachers who were reprimanded by the Henry County school system for reporting irregularities on state tests.

Circuit Court Judge William F. Stewart ruled March 31 that the 2,100- student school system violated the Kentucky Whistleblower Act by disciplining teachers Elizabeth Phillips Fremd and Janeie Hackett Smith for raising questions about the administration of the Kentucky Instructional Results Information System. In addition to granting punitive damages, the judge ordered the school district to pay wages and retirement benefits the teachers lost during the court fight.

Henry County Superintendent Robert Wagoner referred a request for comment to the district’s lawyer, who did not return phone calls last week.

—David J. Hoff

Ariz. Attack Claim Discredited

A police investigation of a school shooting in the Tucson, Ariz., area took a bizarre twist last week when a teacher admitted she had turned a gun on herself.

Kathy Morris, a 6th grade science teacher at La Cima Middle School, called 911 from the school at about 8:30 a.m. April 10, saying she had been shot in the shoulder. Police became suspicious when Ms. Morris, 35, claimed the assailant shot her from six feet away. Powder burns indicated the shot had been fired just inches away, police said.

Deputy Deanna Coultas, a spokeswoman for the Pima County sheriff’s office, said the teacher had also sent herself threatening notes. The teacher told police she shot herself to draw attention to a lack of security at the school—a motive police question.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Test Probe Targets Teachers

Eight California teachers accused of illegally copying portions of state standardized tests returned to class last week following three days of administrative leave.

The teachers, all members of the science department at the 1,900-student Woodland High School near Sacramento, are the subjects of an ongoing investigation of the incident, according to Wayne Ginsburg, a spokesman for the Woodland Joint Unified School District.

The student exposed to some test questions before taking the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition will be identified separately when the tests are submitted to the state for scoring.

Superintendent Linda Weesner said the district was “shocked, appalled, and tremendously disappointed in the unethical conduct of a few employees.”

—Jessica L. Sandham

N.Y.C. Board To Build Web Portal

Members of the New York City board of education unanimously approved an unusual proposal last week for making money so it can buy laptop computers for students.

Under the plan, the 1.1 million-students district will set up a World Wide Web portal with information for students, teachers, administrators, and parents. The school system will collect fees from “sponsors” for the portal, according to Irving S. Hamer Jr., a board member who chaired the task force that drafted the plan.

The money will subsidize the estimated $125 million cost each year of providing laptops and Internet access. Starting in 2001, for nine years in a row, each class of 4th graders is to receive computers they can keep throughout their school careers. The computers will likely be rented to students at a discounted rate, with family income taken into consideration.

—Mary Ann Zehr

A version of this article appeared in the April 19, 2000 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup