News in Brief: A National Roundup

September 05, 2001 7 min read
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Appeals Court Rejects Preferences at U. of Ga.

A federal appeals court last week struck down an affirmative action program at the University of Georgia that gave a partial preference for admission to nonwhite applicants.

Ruling unanimously, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, found that the university’s plan to promote racial diversity violated the 14th Amendment equal-protection rights of three white applicants who were denied admission in 1999.

But the panel stopped short of ruling that a goal of student-enrollment diversity could never justify racial preferences in admissions. It said that question ultimately would have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. But even if diversity were found to be a compelling governmental interest, the university’s program failed the test of being narrowly tailored to achieve that interest, the appeals court said.

The university’s “policy is not only rigid and incomplete, the benefit it awards each and every nonwhite applicant is wholly, and concededly, arbitrary,” said the Aug. 27 opinion by U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus. He cited deposition testimony by the university’s admissions director that the selection of a particular bonus factor for nonwhite applicants was made “out of the blue.”

University officials said last week they were considering whether to appeal the decision to the full 11th Circuit court or to the Supreme Court.

—Mark Walsh

3 Teachers Sue Ohio District
Over Illnesses Linked to Mold

Three teachers are suing an Ohio school district, saying the mold-infested building where they worked has caused them serious medical problems.

The teachers, all of whom taught at West Carrollton High School, contend in the suit filed Aug. 27 that the stachybotrys—or so-called black mold—found in the school has led to serious respiratory, cognitive, and emotional problems, according to their lawyer.

Susan Googash, Carolyn McMillen, and Toni Craig are on leave from their teaching positions and are unlikely to return to the classroom, said Robert N. Trainor, their Newport, Ky.-based lawyer.

The teachers are seeking $2 million each in punitive damages, plus compensatory damages for lost wages, medical expenses, and other financial losses.

The school district has had the high school inspected six times since mold was discovered two years ago, according to Rusty Clifford, the superintendent of the 4,100-student district in West Carrollton, south of Dayton.

None of the tests detected airborne mold spores that can cause the types of maladies the teachers suffer, he said. All of the ceiling tiles, insulation, and carpeting that had traces of mold have been removed, he added.

—David Hoff

Mich. Jury Awards Millions to Family of Girl Killed by Bus

A jury in Michigan has awarded $6.5 million to the family of a 1st grader killed last year when she was hit by a school bus.

The Dexter Community Schools, a 3,100-student district near Ann Arbor, is appealing the award.

Bill Spargur, the superintendent, said that the district had pushed for a settlement, but that the decision to fight the case in court was up to the district’s insurance company.

“We were sensitive to the family,” Mr. Spargur said.

Lauren Stotlar, 6, was killed in March of last year as she walked in front of a school bus near her home. Her family alleged that district officials had ignored previous complaints about the bus driver, who was criminally charged.

The district says it has developed new ways for people to report complaints against bus drivers, and has added flat-fronted buses, crossing arms, and bus aides to help prevent accidents.

—Alan Richard

District of Columbia Board
Moves to Revoke Charters

The District of Columbia board of education, finding that three of the city’s charter schools lacked basic paperwork, textbooks, and clean restrooms, has voted to take steps toward shutting them.

The board will also hold a hearing on whether to do so, said Elena Temple, the communications director for the board.

Some 450 students attend New Vistas Preparatory Public Charter School, Richard Milburn Public Charter Alternative High School, and World Public Charter School.

“These were so egregious,” Ms. Temple said of the schools’ lack of basic administrative procedures and supplies. Inspectors with the board, which oversees 17 of the city’s charter schools, found that the schools lacked documentation of students’ residence in the district, had few fiscal controls in place, and had no teachers in certain subjects.

At least one of the schools, Richard Milburn, has appealed to a federal district court for a hearing on the matter, Ms. Temple said.

James Peal, the executive director of the school, said “we realize we’ve had some problems along the way,” but said the school had repaired them.

The board’s Aug. 8 vote has left some parents antsy. The 69,000-student district sent letters notifying families that the schools may close this school year.

—Mark Stricherz

Teachers’ Union President
Facing Pornography Charges

Tony Gentile, the longtime president of the 10,000-member Broward Teachers Union, is on leave from his post after being arrested on charges of computer pornography.

Mr. Gentile, 54, who has been the president of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based union since 1979, was arrested on July 26 and charged with computer pornography and transmission of harmful material to a minor. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a $35,000 fine.

No court date has been set, and Mr. Gentile has not entered a plea. Neither Mr. Gentile nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.

The union president allegedly carried on an extended sexual conversation via the Internet with a police detective who was posing as a 14-year old girl, police said. He is also charged with sending a pornographic image involving a young girl and older man to the detective.

Following his arrest, Mr. Gentile took a leave of absence from his post.

Pat Santeramo, the union’s vice president, took over as interim president. Discussions concerning Mr. Gentile’s future with the union are under way, according to John Ristow, the spokesman for the union.

“The union has moved toward a seamless transition,” Mr. Ristow said.

—Michelle Galley

Flawed Tryouts Result In 60 Cheerleaders

There will be no shortage of cheers for the Brazoswood High School Buccaneers this year.

The 2,600-student school, located on Texas’ Gulf Coast, will have a total of nearly 60 cheerleaders on its varsity and junior-varsity squads. The squads’ numbers swelled this year after school officials concluded that cheerleading-tryout scores had been rigged.

The four judges allegedly were pressured by a faculty sponsor to pre-select certain students while excluding others, despite performance scores.

Superintendent Rudy Okruhlik of the Brazosport district investigated and determined that the tryout scores were faulty.

Instead of disbanding the squads, he threw out the results and offered all the candidates a place on the teams.

“The students were not at fault here,” Mr. Okruhlik said. “I saw no reason to punish them for mistakes made by adults.”

The faculty sponsor in charge of the squad tryouts, who denied any wrongdoing, has resigned, he said.

—Marianne Hurst

District to Charge Scouts, Others for Using Buildings

Ten months after voting to bar the Boy Scouts from its schools, the Broward County, Fla., school board has decided to charge them and other nonprofit groups a small fee for meeting on school grounds.

Such groups now must pay $10 per meeting for the cost of lighting, a charge that cannot exceed more than $100 per school year. The board’s Aug. 7 decision puts an end to the district’s fight with the Boy Scouts over the group’s policy of excluding openly gay scoutmasters and members.

The board voted last November to bar the Boy Scouts from meeting at any schools in the 259,000-student district. A federal district judge ruled in March that the policy was illegal. (“Boy Scouts Sue Over Ban By Florida District,” Dec. 13, 2000, and “Broward Schools Can’t Bar Scouts, Judge Says,” March 28, 2001.)

“I don’t think there’s any question that we’ve prevailed,” said Jeffrie A. Herrmann, the executive director of the Boy Scouts’ South Florida Council.

Joe Donzelli, a spokesman for the district, said: “Here’s the bottom line: kids. For all the hand-wringing, we have always believed that kids benefit with the Scouts.”

—Mark Stricherz


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