News in Brief: A National Roundup

January 22, 2003 6 min read
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AFT Leaders Sue D.C. Union; Poised to Vote on Takeover

The American Federation of Teachers filed a federal lawsuit last week against eight officials of its District of Columbia affiliate, alleging that they stole more than $5 million in union funds and seeking restitution.

The governing board of the AFT was expected to vote this week on whether to take over the Washington Teachers’ Union. The lawsuit is based on a detailed audit of the affiliate’s records conducted at the request of the national organization.

“The massive misappropriation of union funds and the betrayal of the members that are outlined in our audit are reprehensible and sickening,” AFT President Sandra Feldman said in a statement.

If approved, the AFT “administratorship” would mark the first forcible dissolution of local leadership since the AFT’s founding in 1917, according to federation spokesman Alex Wohl.

The FBI is investigating allegations that the former president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, Barbara A. Bullock; her former assistant, Gwendolyn M. Hemphill; the union’s former treasurer, James O. Baxter II; and others stole from local union coffers. No charges have been filed against the three, who are named in the AFT lawsuit.

Ms. Bullock and Ms. Hemphill have resigned, and Mr. Baxter stepped aside under pressure. None could be reached last week for comment. (“Alleged Theft From D.C. Union Yields Probe,” Jan. 8, 2003.)

—Bess Keller

N.Y.C. Schools Miss Date To Install Heart Defibrillators

The sudden deaths of three students in New York City public schools within a single week has sparked controversy over the 1.1 million-student district’s failure to meet a state-mandated deadline for providing all schools with heart defibrillators.

The New York legislature passed a law last spring that required every public school in the state to have at least one automated external defibrillator in place by Dec. 1 and an employee trained to use it. The potentially life-saving device uses an electrical shock to restart a normal heartbeat in someone who has experienced sudden cardiac arrest. The law did not provide schools with money to buy the devices or to train staff members to use them.

In all three deaths recently reported in New York City schools—the first of which took place on Jan. 6—the students simply collapsed and died. The students—Randy Carlote, 13, Kimario Green, 19, and Catherine Bodden, 16—each died at a different school, according to press reports.

The New York City education department’s press office would give no details about when the school system would have the devices in place, nor would a spokeswoman comment on why the department had failed to meet the state deadline.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Protests Prompt School to Cancel Care-Package Drive for Iraqis

Following protests from a handful of parents and community members, officials at the independent Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, Pa., have canceled their plans to send care packages of toiletries to children and refugees in Iraq.

Elementary school students were to assemble the packages of shampoo, toothpaste, hairbrushes, and nail clippers as part of a larger celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, according to Leslie Pfeil, the director of public relations for the 625-student pre-K-12 school. The supplies were to have been shipped to Iraq through the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker social-justice group based in Philadelphia.

But controversy arose at Baldwin after the school sent a letter to parents explaining the project, Ms. Pfeil said, adding that one parent called in to a local radio show to voice his objections. Some accused the school of being “un-American,” Ms. Pfeil said.

To spare students from “getting involved in an adult argument,” Ms. Pfeil said, the school decided instead to send the packages to a local shelter for women and children who have been victims of domestic violence.

—Michelle Galley

S.F. Board Backs Discussions On Prospect of War Against Iraq

The San Francisco school board voted unanimously last week to oppose a U.S. war in Iraq and to hold a day of “nonbiased discussion” in the 58,500-student district’s schools about the possible military action.

The resolution, introduced by school board members Eric Mar and Mark Sanchez, was widely criticized before it came up for a vote. The original proposal had included an endorsement of anti-war rallies scheduled for Jan. 18 in San Francisco and Washington and had encouraged district schools to look to several anti-war groups for lesson ideas for all grades, including kindergarten.

After hearing from many parents, Mr. Mar and Mr. Sanchez decided to soften the resolution by not endorsing the demonstrations and taking out mention of any anti-war groups.

Under the new resolution, schools are encouraged to hold a day of public discussion about the possibility of a United States-led war against Iraq. Each school can determine age-appropriate activities, and students can opt out of such events if they feel uncomfortable about participating.

—Hattie Brown

Atlanta-Area District Clarifies Policy on Teaching of Evolution

A suburban Atlanta school district that is encouraging the teaching of theories contradicting evolution is telling teachers to limit their lessons on the topic to scientific issues.

“Under no circumstances should teachers use instruction in an effort to coerce students to adopt a particular religious belief or set of beliefs or to disavow a particular religious belief or set of beliefs,” the Cobb County, Ga., board of education says in a policy adopted on Jan. 8.

“Instruction should be respectful of personal religious beliefs, and encourage such respect among students,” according to the policy, which describes how evolution and competing theories should be taught in the district.

Last fall, the board adopted a policy saying that “discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education.” It added that evolution and other theories of the origins of life were one area in which it was important to teach about academic controversy. Science textbooks in the 98,000-student district also include disclaimers that say evolution is a theory and should not be considered a fact.

—David J. Hoff

Ga. Panel Moves to Bench Teacher Over Test Privacy

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission has voted to take its case against a Gwinnet County elementary school teacher who posted test questions on the Internet to the state’s Court of Appeals.

The court now has until Feb. 9 to decide whether it will hear the case.

James Hope, a 4th grade teacher at Centerville Elementary School, in the suburban Atlanta town of Snellville, is accused of violating the state code of ethics for educators. In 2000, he posted questions from the Gwinnett County school district’s Gateway test—which he argued was poorly written—on the Internet, even though he had signed an agreement not to disclose any portion of the test.

The state commission is seeking to have Mr. Hope’s teaching certificate suspended. His lawyer, however, argues that the confidentiality agreement was illegal because the test could have been obtained by anyone through the state’s open-records law.

If the appeals court rejects the case, the commission could ask the state supreme court to hear it, but that course of action hasn’t been decided yet, according to Vickie Brantley, the director of the agency’s educator- ethics division.

—Linda Jacobson

DeKalb County, Ga., Board Keeps Two-Race Leadership

After a brief debate, the school board in DeKalb County, Ga., opted last week to continue a local tradition of including at least one white member and one black member among the panel’s top leadership.

For at least the past 12 years, the board has followed an unwritten rule of electing a biracial pair as its chairman and vice chairman. During a transition this month from a seven- member board to a nine-member one, however, outgoing Chairman Brad Bryant, who is white, said he saw no reason not to select an all-black slate. About 80 percent of the district’s 98,000 students are African-American.

“I think what the folks want is good leadership,” he argued.

But a former vice chairwoman, Sarah Copelin-Wood, who is black, argued it was still important to ensure diversity among the board’s top officers. In the end, the panel elected a black chairwoman and a white vice chairwoman.

—Jeff Archer


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