News in Brief: A National Roundup

October 11, 2000 6 min read

Calif. District Found To Violate LEP Rights

A California school district that has been praised by opponents of bilingual education for its implementation of the state’s Proposition 227 has been found in violation of state and federal laws for not addressing some of the needs of students who speak little or no English.

The 22,000-student Oceanside district failed to provide limited-English- proficient students with full access to the core curriculum, lacked educationally sound criteria for the placement and transition of such students in programs, and didn’t adequately monitor their progress in learning English and other academic subjects, the California Department of Education concluded in a report late last month.

Proposition 227 is the ballot initiative passed in June 1998 that sought to replace bilingual education with English-immersion programs.

Proponents of the measure have credited Oceanside’s thorough implementation of the law with its LEP students’ dramatic gains in test scores.

Since last January, the district has been working to implement a master plan for LEP students that addresses many of the state report’s conclusions, a spokesman for the district said.

The district must respond within 60 days after receiving the Sept. 29 report with a plan for how to comply with the law.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Embezzler OKs Judgment

A former school finance officer has agreed to a judgment against him seeking. repayment of $1 million to the Sumter, S.C., district, from which he was accused of stealing millions of taxpayer dollars.

Joe Klein, a former assistant superintendent in the 10,000-student Sumter School District 17, is serving a 10-year state prison sentence for embezzlement. He pleaded guilty last year.

The restitution agreement stems from a civil lawsuit filed against him by the district, which is 40 miles northeast of Columbia.

According to prosecutors, Mr. Klein was the mastermind of a criminal scheme that bilked the district of more than $3 million over about nine years, mostly by billing fake companies for work or products.

Twelve others, not all district employees, have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to charges involving use of public money for vacations and other personal purposes.

—Alan Richard

Confederate Flag Repainted

A painting of a Confederate flag that has been on the outside of the gymnasium at Haralson County High School in Georgia since the school opened 30 years ago has been restored after it was vandalized.

Students at the 1,000-student school, which is more than 90 percent black, voted overwhelmingly to repaint the flag last month in time for the homecoming football game.

“Sentiment in the community is that it is a spirit thing for the school,” Greg Hunt, the superintendent of the Haralson County schools, said of the painting. “It’s not a racial thing.”

Although there were rumors that African-American students, including football players, were planning to boycott the game, that didn’t happen, Mr. Hunt said.

However, a cameraman from an Atlanta television station who attended the parade before the game was cited for disorderly conduct after witnesses said he encouraged a group of black students to burn a Confederate flag. Police Chief David Godfrey of Tallapoosa, where the school is located, said it was unclear whether the cameraman or the students ignited the flame.

—Linda Jacobson

Charter School Offer Refused

Massachusetts districts have turned down a chance to convert some of the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools to charter schools—and be paid if they failed to improve as a result.

In August, retired oil executive Lovett C. “Pete” Peters said that he would help convert the 22 lowest-scoring elementary schools on state achievement tests to charter status—and pay their districts $1 million each if student test scores didn’t improve in five years.

But when the deadline to accept the offer arrived last week, none of the districts in which 21 of the schools are located had accepted it. Another school on the list, a charter school in Cambridge, also refused Mr. Peters’ offer of help in reorganizing.

Mr. Peters is the founder of the Pioneer Institute, a public-policy think tank in Boston that advocates the largely independent public charter schools. He might repeat the offer in Massachusetts, a spokesman for the institute said.

In the meantime, Mr. Peters is considering a request by Gov. Roy E. Barnes of Georgia, a Democrat, to make the same offer there.

—Robert C. Johnston

N.M. School Vandalized

Vandals have broken into Santa Fe (N.M.) High School for the fourth time this school year. The Sept. 29 incident forced a handful of students to be sent home until an estimated $10,000 in damages could be repaired.

A custodian discovered damage in several places on the sprawling, 1,900-student campus. Windows and candy machines were broken, fire extinguishers discharged, desks ransacked, liquids poured over computers, and two laptop computers stolen, officials of the Santa Fe district said in a statement.

The Teen Parent Center, where students’ babies are cared for, and a special education classroom for medically fragile students sustained enough damage to render them unusable, district spokeswoman Joanne Ferguson said.

Some students who use those rooms were sent home, and others were moved to other rooms.

The break-in occurred as the school is changing security companies, Ms. Ferguson said. School officials are investigating why no alarm signal was triggered, and they have added an overnightsecurity guard to patrol the campus, she said.

—Catherine Gerwertz

Teacher Fired Over Lesson

A Covina, Calif., high school teacher has been dismissed from his job after instructing his students to detail a fictional assassination and getaway plan as a class assignment.

As part of a lesson on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” Andrew Phillips, an English teacher at the 1,300-student Covina High School, instructed his class to come up with an assassination plot and explain how they would carry it out, according to local news reports.

Students offended by the assignment were told they could describe eight to 10 motives for killing a person as an alternative, the reports said.

Complaints began coming in early last week, according to Louis Pappas, the assistant superintendent of personnel for the 13,400-student Covina-Valley Unified School District.

District officials said that the assignment was not authorized, and that Mr. Phillips was no longer employed by the district.

Mr. Phillips could not be reached for comment.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Union Leader Goes to Jail

Philip Rumore, the president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, bucked both New York state law and a judge’s orders by calling an illegal strike. This week, Mr. Rumore is paying the price—in jail.

The leader of the union was sentenced last month to spend 15 days in the Erie County Correctional Facility after being held in contempt of court, said Robin D. Rapaport, the vice president of the National Education Association of New York. Mr. Rumore and two other union officers, Vice President Edith Lewin and Secretary Barbara Bielecki, were also fined $1,000 each on Sept. 29. The president of the NEA affiliate, who plead guilty to the charges, had asked the union’s 4,000 teachers to stay home twice in September against a judge’s orders.

Union negotiators and district officials sparred for more than a year over a new contract. An agreement was reached Sept. 27, giving teachers 13.5 percent raises over five years.

No union president has been jailed in New York since 1976, Mr. Rapaport said.

—Julie Blair