News in Brief: A National Roundup

June 19, 2002 7 min read
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U.S. Teenage Birthrate Drops to 10-Year Low

Births to teenagers ages 15 to 19 dropped nationwide by 5 percent last year to a 10-year low, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported.

Since 1991, the rate of births to teenagers has declined 26 percent, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson said in the June 6 announcement. Births to teenage mothers declined from 48.5 births per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 19 in 2000 to 45.9 births to those in that age group in 2001.

Progress was particularly great among younger adolescents, ages 15 to 17, the report says, and for black teenagers. Since 1991, the birthrate for black teenagers ages 15 to 19 has dropped 37 percent, it noted.

—Ann Bradley

San Diego District Sued Over Use of Federal Aid

A group of parents and teachers has sued the San Diego school district, alleging that it is misspending federal money intended for poor students.

The lawsuit, filed late last month in the U.S. District Court in San Diego, claims that the 143,000-student district took Title I money away from schools attended by disadvantaged students and used it to pursue districtwide reform efforts.

Some of the parents and teachers who sued were members of the advisory group set up to help the district make decisions about spending the federal money. The lawsuit was filed by the Escondido, Calif.-based United States Justice Foundation, which describes itself as conservative.

Richard D. Ackerman, a lawyer with the foundation, said the complaint involves the district’s decision to cut staff members whose jobs were paid for with Title I money.

Steven Baratte, the public information officer for the district, said school officials believe they have been spending the federal money properly.

—Ann Bradley

Boston Catholic School Receives $5 Million Bequest

A Boston industrialist and philanthropist has bequeathed $5 million to St. Mary’s Junior- Senior High School, reportedly the largest gift ever to a high school in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

William F. Connell, who died last August at age 62, stipulated that most of the money is to be used to build a new library, said Carl DiMaiti, the principal of the Lynn, Mass., school, which enrolls 515 students in grades 7-12.

The new building will also house a technology center, a multipurpose arts space, and science labs.

Mr. Connell, the son of an Irish immigrant, graduated from St. Mary’s in 1955 and went on to make a fortune in manufacturing and banking. He made previous gifts to the school totaling $1 million.

“He was extremely generous, and never forgot where he came from,” Mr. DiMaiti said.

—Andrew Trotter

Utah Schools to Receive Surplus Olympic Goods

Utah schools will soon receive free television sets, computers, batteries, and other surplus goods from the Salt Lake Olympic Committee.

This week, the state’s 40 school districts, as well as charter schools and private schools, were slated to submit their wish lists for $5.5 million in merchandise that Olympic organizers donated to the state’s schools.

The organizing committee donated more than 1,000 TV sets, ensuring that every eligible school will receive one set, according to Larry R. Newton, the school finance director for the Utah Office of Education.

Mr. Newton is organizing the distribution of the surplus goods. School officials were scheduled to send him their requests via electronic mail on June 17.

In addition to valuables such as furniture, fax machines, and videocassette recorders, the surplus goods include 200 pounds of kitty litter, 6,300 disposable ponchos, and 117 rolls of duct tape.

—David J. Hoff

Federal Court Upholds Detroit School Takeover

A federal appeals court last week upheld a 1999 Michigan law that replaced Detroit’s elected school board with an appointed one.

A lawsuit filed in 1999 alleged that the state had violated the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by not allowing Detroit voters to elect their own school board members. The lawsuit also contended that Detroit voters had been discriminated against because many of them are African-American.

But a three-judge panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, unanimously affirmed a lower-court ruling and found that the legislation did not violate the constitutional rights of Detroit voters.

Judge Ronald Lee Gilman wrote in the court’s opinion that lawmakers recognized that the takeover legislation was an “experiment of sorts.” But he continued that they “felt compelled to take the risk of the unknown rather than continue with a system that appeared to be failing.”

The legislation created a six-person school board and gave Detroit’s mayor the authority to pick five of the members. The governor selects the sixthmember. In 2004, city voters will decide whether to keep the current leadership model for the 168,000-student district or revert to an elected board.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Chicago Schools Move to Fire Chaperones in Field Trip Death

The chief executive officer of the Chicago public schools last week moved to fire two employees who were present when a student drowned on a field trip.

Arne Duncan said in a June 10 statement that the 432,000-student district’s investigation of what he called a “senseless tragedy” showed that several school board policies were violated.

In addition to seeking the dismissal of two employees, Mr. Duncan wants to suspend the three other Chicago public school employees who chaperoned the field trip.

Derrick Spencer, 14, a student at Goldblatt Elementary School, drowned in a hotel pool in Cincinnati on a May 24 trip to visit an amusement park.

The board’s investigation showed that no lifeguard or water-safety instructor was present, in violation of board policy. The pool was also closed for the night, the probe found, and school employees who were chaperoning the trip had urged the hotel to open it so the students could have a party.

Mr. Duncan’s recommendations will go to a hearing officer who will either affirm or amend them.

—Ann Bradley

D.C. School Officials Probe Grade-Changing Charges

District of Columbia public school officials are investigating allegations of grade changes at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School, one of the city’s best-regarded schools.

The investigation began after Erich Martel, a teacher at the school, began looking into students’ records after a student whom he had failed last year graduated.

The teacher discovered that an F he had given the student had been changed to a D. An assistant principal was disciplined in that case after acknowledging making the change. When Mr. Martel began reviewing additional student records, he found other irregularities and notified school system officials. The Washington Post reported that teachers at Wilson confirmed to a reporter that, in 11 cases, grades they had given were raised without their knowledge.

Steven G. Seleznow, the chief of staff for the 77,000- student system, said changing grades without notifying teachers would violate the teachers’ union contract. “The major issue for us is an issue of not consistently informing teachers of a grade change, as opposed to a pattern of inflating grades or giving grades that were not deserved,” he said.

—John Gehring

Los Angeles Judge Throws Out Teacher’s $4.35 Million Award

A judge in Los Angeles has thrown out a $4.35 million jury verdict and ordered a new trial in a former teacher’s sexual-harassment lawsuit against the city’s school district.

The teacher, Janis Adams, alleged that administrators did not do enough to stop an underground student newspaper that made crude sexual assertions about her.

The lawsuit said the underground paper at Palisades High School claimed in one article that Ms. Adams wore adult diapers and had appeared in pornographic films. Her suit said that she did neither, and that administrators’ failure to stop the distribution of the newspaper on campus had led to a sexually hostile work environment.

In March, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury awarded Ms. Adams $1.1 million for lost earnings and $3.25 million for emotional distress. (“L.A. Teacher Wins $4.35 Million Harassment Verdict,” March 20, 2002.)

Lawyers for the 737,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District argued that the jury did not take into account actions taken by administrators in response to the allegations of harassment. The district also argued that California’s law against sexual harassment in the workplace was not intended to create liability for districts based on the misconduct of students. Judge Kenneth R. Freeman granted the district’s motion on June 7.

—Mark Walsh

A version of this article appeared in the June 19, 2002 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup

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