News in Brief: A National Roundup

May 21, 2003 6 min read
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Hazing Incident Prompts Suspensions in Illinois

The Northfield (Ill.) Township District 225 school board last week suspended and may expel 32 seniors involved in a May 4 off-campus hazing incident that sent five female students to the hospital.

School officials in the northern Chicago suburb suspended the 28 female and four male students at Glenbrook North High School for 10 days, the maximum allowed under Illinois law. Officials are working with local police investigating the incident, which occurred at a “powder puff” football game. Criminal charges are expected.

The “students who actively participated in [the incident] are in violation of public laws regarding hazing and assault and battery,” said Michael D. Riggle, the principal of the 2,100-student high school, in a statement. “In addition, they are in violation of the school hazing policy ... as well as sections of the Illinois School Code regarding nonschool-sanctioned student groups who conduct covert activities.”

Many of the students are appealing the suspensions to school administrators, and at least several of the suspended students are trying to block their penalties in court, stating that the school system is denying their rights to an education, school officials said.

A Cook County circuit judge last week refused to block one student’s suspension because of lack of evidence, reported the Chicago Tribune.

—Rhea R. Borja

New Jersey Judge Rules For One Valedictorian

A federal judge in New Jersey has ordered Moorestown school officials to drop their plan to name two high school valedictorians, a move that prompted the student with the top grade point average to sue.

Judge Freda Wolfson of the U.S. District Court in Camden agreed with Harvard University-bound senior Blair L. Hornstine that making her share the honor would discriminate against her on the basis of a disability. Ms. Hornstine has an immune deficiency similar to chronic fatigue syndrome and did much of her work at home.

Superintendent Paul J. Kadri argued in court papers that the program gave her a special advantage. He sought to give a second Harvard-bound senior the honor as well.

The judge harshly criticized the district in her ruling, saying officials should have adjusted the program earlier if they had doubts about its fairness.

—Bess Keller

L.A. Schools Released From Spec. Ed. Quota

A new consent decree gives the Los Angeles Unified School District more freedom to decide how it mainstreams its students with disabilities.

The agreement, approved by the school board May 13, abolishes a quota that had required 7 percent to 17 percent of each school’s student population to be children with disabilities.

That quota range would even have applied to the district’s 17 special education centers, said Donnalyn Jaque-Anton, the district’s associate superintendent for special education.

The 750,000- student district has 86,000 special education students, Ms. Anton said.

The consent degree results from a class action by parents of special education students filed in 1993.

—Lisa Goldstein

Parents’ Hidden Tape Recorder Captures Bus Driver’s Abuse

A Milwaukee couple grew so curious about why their 9-year-old son was always getting into trouble on the school bus that they decided to investigate.

Rosemary and Vince Mutulo put a tape recorder in their son’s backpack for the bus ride to school. The boy, Jacob, has Down syndrome and attention deficit disorder.

What they heard was so disturbing, Ms. Mutulo said, that she couldn’t play the tape all the way through the first time. The tape, made April 29, revealed that the bus driver was threatening and then hitting her son, Ms. Mutulo alleged.

“He tells him to shut up, or he’ll slap the living hell out of him, break his arm, break his finger,” she claimed. “I was speechless; I was physically ill.”

The driver, Brian Duchow, has been charged with felony abuse of a child. Mr. Duchow could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the 105,000-student district said Mr. Duchow will not be permitted to drive a district bus again.

—Lisa Goldstein

Edison Refuses to Elaborate On Talk of Going Private

Edison Schools Inc. said last week that its losses narrowed in its fiscal third quarter and that it is still on track to report its first-ever quarterly profit by the end of June.

Meanwhile, the company declined to elaborate on a recent announcement acknowledging that Chief Executive Officer Christopher Whittle and other senior executives were exploring a buyout that would take Edison private.

The New York City-based school management company had a net loss of $6.4 million on revenues of $108.4 million for the three months ending March 31, compared with a $12.8 million loss on revenues of $121.9 million for the same period last year.

The company announced May 8 that Mr. Whittle and other senior managers were considering making an offer to purchase all outstanding Edison shares they don’t already own.

David Graff, Edison’s general counsel, said during a conference call last week that the company would not answer questions about the potential buyout unless and until a deal was completed. Edison’s stock closed at $1.78 on May 15.

—Mark Walsh

Lawsuit Claims School District Encouraged Religious Participation

Officials for the Union County school district in Tennessee filed court papers this month denying that administrators had failed to respond to reports of harassment of a student who did not attend an off-campus religious event.

Two parents have sued the 3,200-student district, alleging that their daughter was repeatedly harassed by school employees and students for refusing to participate in a privately sponsored Christian tent revival attended by many students during school hours.

The lawsuit, filed in February in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Tenn., by Sara Jane and Greg Tracy on behalf of their daughter, India, alleges that the district sponsored and encouraged students to attend an annual three-day event called “The Crusade,” which is run by a Baptist minister.

Ms. Tracy, 14, has left her public middle school, and the suit seeks reimbursement from the district for her home instruction.

John C. Duffy, a lawyer for the district, said the school system does not sponsor or encourage students to attend the crusade, but permits them to attend with parental permission.

—Mark Walsh

Teacher Exposes PSAT Grammar Error

Some 500,000 students have had their Preliminary sat scores raised after a persistent high school journalism teacher pointed out a mistake in how a grammer question on the test was scored.

This is the first time since 1980 that the PSAT has been rescored.

The sponsor of the PSAT—which is also called the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test—said that its scoring sheet for the Oct. 15, 2002, exam had the wrong answer on a question involving an often-overlooked rule of grammar.

The question asked test-takers to identify a grammatical error in a sentence or to answer that the sentence was properly structured. The question started: “Toni Morrison’s genius enables her to create ...”

The Educational Testing Service, which writes the PSAT, the SAT, and other tests for the New York City-based College Board, said the sentence was grammatically correct.

Kevin N. Keegan, a teacher and newspaper adviser at James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, Md., brought the matter to the College Board’s attention. Mr. Keegan, a 25-year teaching veteran, said that the pronoun “her” was used incorrectly to refer to the possessive “Toni Morrison’s.”

After consulting several grammar texts, Mr. Keegan wrote to the ETS.

They exchanged several letters before the Princeton, N.J.-based testing service hired a panel of experts to review the question. The panel conceded that Mr. Keegan had a point. But the experts said that many grammar texts would accept the sentence as it was constructed, according to Lee Jones, a vice president of the College Board.

Although the College Board decided to remove the question from the test, it did not lower the scores of students who gave what the ETS initially considered the correct answer.

—David J. Hoff


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