News in Brief: A National Roundup

August 07, 2002 6 min read
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Andover Raises Millions In Largest Private Drive

Phillips Academy, the nation’s oldest private boarding school, has raised $208.9 million in what officials there described as the largest, most successful fund-raising campaign for a private school in U.S. history. The 224-year-old school-often referred to as Andover after the Massachusetts town in which it’s located-plans to use the money for endowments, faculty salaries, student scholarships, facilities, and technology upgrades. David M. Underwood, the chairman and president of the school’s board of trustees, called the campaign “a magnificent philanthropic effort” that has “strengthened this great old school to its bedrock.” More than 17,000 people contributed money during the six-year effort.

Private schools raised an average of $595,867 through fund raising in the 2000- 01 academic year, according to the National Association of Independent Schools, based in Washington.

—Scott W. Wright

N.H. High Court Overturns Student’s Conduct Conviction

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has overturned the disorderly conduct conviction of a high school student who told a teacher he “might have to shoot up the school” if she didn’t hug him.

Marjorie Spaulding, the teacher at Dover High School in the 3,600-student Dover, N.H., district, considered the March 2001 comment by senior John D. McCooey to be facetious. But she reported it to a school guidance counselor, and the Dover police department dispatched two detectives who interviewed her and other school employees. They also searched the student’s home but found no weapons.

Police charged Mr. McCooey with disorderly conduct. He was found guilty in a state trial court and sentenced to pay a $1,000 fine and serve 50 hours of community service. The student voluntarily removed himself from Dover High after the incident and finished his education at an alternative school, said his lawyer, Edward T. Clancy.

The state high court’s 4-0 ruling July 22 overturned Mr. McCooey’s conviction. The court rejected the state’s arguments that the police investigation had disrupted lessons. Ms. Spaulding testified that her schedule was not disrupted and that students in her class did not react to Mr. McCooey’s statement, the court noted.

—Mark Walsh

Colorado District Settles Suit Over Student Suicide

A Colorado school district has reached a $375,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed by the family of a female student who committed suicide a year after she was sexually assaulted by a male teenager.

In 1999, Miranda Whittaker was 12 when she said was assaulted by Trent Chappell, then 18 and a senior at Holyoke Senior High School in Holyoke, Colo., a town of 1,900 people located near the Nebraska state line. The incident took place in his car, prosecutors said.

Mr. Chappell pleaded no contest in 2000 to a charge of sexual assault on a child and was sentenced to probation. In January 2001, Miranda shot and killed herself in her family’s home.

Miranda’s family sued the Holyoke school district and several staff members, alleging that they had failed to keep Mr. Chappell away from the girl after the incident, despite a restraining order. The lawsuit was settled on July 2 by an insurance company that represents Colorado school systems, and it releases officials named in the case from liability.

—Sean Cavanagh

Judge Rules Miami-Dade Schools Can’t Bar Union Reporter

A federal judge has issued an injunction barring the Miami-Dade County schools from excluding a union reporter from the district’s pressroom.

Annette Katz, the editor of the United Teachers of Dade’s newspaper, was arrested on May 15 when she refused to honor the district’s new policy governing the room. Under that policy, only reporters with credentials from general-circulation publications are allowed to use the room.

The union and Ms. Katz, who has sat in the pressroom for more than two decades to cover meetings for utd Today, sued Superintendent Merritt R. Steirheim and the board of education in July. On July 10, U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages granted an injunction preventing the superintendent from enforcing the new policy.

Ms. Katz attributed the policy change to conflict between the union and school managers over a proposed pay cut for teachers.

“Things got kind of heated,” she said, “and lo and behold, they changed the rules of the pressroom, and the only person affected by the rules change was me.” Mayco Villafana, the spokesman for the 361,000-student Miami-Dade County district, said district officials had not decided their next legal move. The policy, which also bars lobbyists, vendors, and members of the public from using the pressroom, was developed to “bring a semblance of order” to it and not to bar Ms. Katz, he said.

—Ann Bradley

Camden, N.J., School Board Sues To Block Governance Changes

New Jersey has approved a $175 million package to revitalize its poorest city, Camden, but the local school board is waging a court fight to block the aid because of the governance measures attached to it.

The new law, signed on July 22 by Gov. James E. McGreevey, a Democrat, is designed to rehabilitate Camden’s housing, improve roads and sewer systems, and build the city’s network of colleges, parks, and hospitals over the next three years under state oversight.

In a lawsuit filed July 25 in superior court in Trenton, the Camden board of education objected to a provision in the law that phases out the current elected, nine-member board, replacing it with three elected members, three appointed by the mayor, and three by the governor.

The new law also gives the governor veto power over school board actions.

Board members contended in the lawsuit that the provisions aimed at the board amounted to an illegal takeover. A state lawyer argued that the measures were time-limited and necessary to Camden’s recovery.

Lawyers for the school board asked Superior Court Judge Andrew J. Smithson to block the law temporarily, but he declined to do so. He set another hearing for Aug. 5.

—Catherine Gewertz

Ex-Principal Pleads Guilty To Having Sex With Girl

A former private school principal from Indiana has pleaded guilty to federal charges that he repeatedly had sex with a then-11-year-old student after running off with her to Las Vegas.

William A. Beith, 30, was arrested in May of last year in Nevada, where he had fled with the girl after police learned of their sexual relationship. At the time, Mr. Beith was the principal of Liberty Baptist Academy in Lake Station, located in Indiana’s northwest corner, and the girl was enrolled at the 70-student school.

Under the terms of a plea agreement announced July 1, federal prosecutors recommended that Mr. Beith be sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison for transporting a minor across state lines for the purposes of having sex, said David Capp, the first assistant U.S. attorney for the northern district of Indiana. Sentencing is slated for Oct. 3.

—Caroline Hendrie

Health-Care Plan Approved By Los Angeles Commission

The Los Angeles County Proposition 10 Commission has voted to spend $100 million over five years to provide health insurance to roughly 15,000 young children, up to age 5.

The new Healthy Kids initiative would target those children who live in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicare or the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, called Healthy Families. Those who live in households earning up to three times the federal poverty level would be eligible for the new program. That would amount to about $54,000 a year for a family of four.

To date, the initiative is the largest allocation made by the commission, which uses revenue from a statewide tobacco tax to subsidize programs for young children. The new program also fulfills one of two requests made to the members by the actor and filmmaker Rob Reiner, the chairman of the state Children and Families Commission. (“L.A. Panel Set to Vote On Preschool-for-All Plan,” July 10, 2002.)

A version of this article appeared in the August 07, 2002 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup


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