News in Brief: A National Roundup

June 21, 2000 6 min read

USDA To Toughen Safety After Ground Beef Recall

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week that it will soon impose more stringent food- safety standards on school lunches, a decision prompted by the failure of a major beef supplier to pass a series of tests for salmonella.

The agency was poised to issue letters recalling 1,200 tons of ground beef from schools in 16 states in the South, Midwest, and Northeast that are supplied by the Supreme Beef Processors.

The recall came after the Dallas-based meat processor refused to shut down its plants after flunking a government inspection for salmonella bacteria for the fourth time, said Becky Unkenholz, a spokeswoman for the USDA. Officials at Supreme Beef Processors, who dismissed the government’s action as “intimidation” in news reports, did not return calls last week.

While most of the beef has already been consumed by students, there have been no reports of food poisoning, federal officials said.

—Jessica Portner

Denver Taps Interim Chief

The Denver school board has tapped one of the district’s top officials to lead the system while the board seeks a new leader.

The board announced this month that Bernadette Seick would serve as the interim superintendent during the search for a successor to Sidney “Chip” Zullinger, who resigned May 15 after nine months on the job. (“Levy To Stay in N.Y.C., Ackerman Quits D.C.,” May 24, 2000.)

Ms. Seick has been the 70,000-student district’s assistant superintendent for secondary schools for six years and was the principal at John F. Kennedy High School for five years before that. She took the interim position upon the school board’s June 9 announcement.

—David J. Hoff

Teachers Temporarily Halt Strike

Teachers in a San Francisco-area school district temporarily halted their weeklong strike last week, allowing them to see their students one last day before the summer break.

Pittsburg, Calif., teachers—who have been without a new contract for two years—walked off the job June 8 after reaching an impasse with district negotiators over retroactive pay. Substitutes and some educators who crossed picket lines kept the schools open for final exams, but on some days, as few as 25 percent of the district’s 9,100 students showed up.

The striking teachers returned June 15—the last day of classes—to take part in commencement. The walkout, however, could continue next fall if an agreement hasn’t been reached, said Mike Myslinski, a spokesman for the California Teachers Association, the local’s state affiliate. District officials argued that the teachers were afraid they could lose their job benefits if they stayed out past the end of the school year.

—Jeff Archer

District Sued Over Camp Fliers

An Arizona school district has been sued over its refusal to distribute a brochure for a summer camp that includes Bible classes.

Joseph Hills, the president of the nonprofit organization A Little Sonshine, sued the Scottsdale district and several district officials in U.S. District Court in Phoenix. The lawsuit, filed June 8, alleges that district officials told Mr. Hills they would distribute the fliers for the Arizona organization’s summer camp only if descriptions of Bible classes and religious symbols were removed.

The suit says the 13,900-student district distributes fliers for many summer programs, including those of the YMCA. The suit is backed by the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal organization affiliated with the religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.

The suit contends that the district violated Mr. Hills’ rights under the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Mary Ellen Simonson, a lawyer for the district, said, “We believe our current policy passes constitutional muster.”

—Mark Walsh

Panel Splits on L.A. Breakup

A key regional planning committee has split on a plan that would divide the Los Angeles Unified School District into three separate systems.

The 5-5 vote this month by the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization means that it will send the California state school board a recommendation against dividing the sprawling 710,000-student system.

The state board will have the final say on whether the public will be able to vote on the plan to carve up the district.

Critics of the plan charge that it would lead to greater racial isolation by drawing many of the district’s white students into the new school systems. The Los Angeles County board also cited the need for new funding to make the plan work.

—Robert C. Johnston

Vandalism Probed in Calif.

Police in Palm Springs, Calif., are investigating acts of vandalism at Palm Springs High School in which students allegedly used white shoe polish to write various phrases, including a racial slur that appeared to be directed at the school’s principal, who is black.

Though district officials refrained from commenting on the incident at the 1,500-student school, local papers reported that 16 seniors were suspended and barred from graduation activities in connection with the vandalism.

The students also poured either gasoline or bleach on the school grounds, strung a dead cat from the school’s bell tower, and dumped ketchup and animal feces on school windows, said Patrick A. Williams, a spokesman for the Palm Springs police.

—Jessica L. Sandham

Okla. Boy Convicted in Shooting

A 13-year-old boy who shot and wounded five students in Fort Gibson, Okla., last year was convicted last week and sentenced to a juvenile facility.

Seth Trickey was convicted on six counts of shooting with intent to kill and one count of weapons possession for the Dec. 6 incident, in which he took his father’s semiautomatic pistol and opened fire on a crowd of students filtering into Fort Gibson Middle School in the 1,800- student district.

None of the students was seriously injured.

Muskogee County District Attorney John David Luton said the trial had failed to shed light on why the honors student had attacked the students.

The 7th grader will stay in the juvenile facility until he is 19, unless authorities deem him fit to be released earlier.

—Jessica L. Portner

Birmingham To Get Elected Board

The Birmingham, Ala., public schools are on track to switch from an appointed to an elected school board, after voters statewide overwhelmingly approved the change.

Now it is up to the state legislature to pass a bill constituting the board for the 38,000-student district.

Sandra Sims-deGraffrenreid, the executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said the soonest the district could begin the transition to an elected board would be fall 2001.

—Erik W. Robelen


Irving Anker, a former New York City schools chancellor who guided the nation’s largest school district though the turbulent early days of decentralization in the 1970s, died June 12. He was 88.

Starting as a high school teacher in 1937, Mr. Anker rose through the ranks of the city school system to become its chancellor. He held office from 1973 to 1978, a period marked by struggles over decentralization, integration, and funding cutbacks.

Mr. Anker investigated allegations of corruption and mismanagement in more than a half-dozen of the 32 subdistricts that had been created by the state legislature in the late 1960s. He sometimes sent in monitors or superseded the authority of the local boards.

He insisted that his own three children attend city public schools, even as many other whites were fleeing the system.

Mr. Anker was forced out of the top job after Edward I. Koch was elected mayor.

—Bess Keller

A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 2000 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup