News in Brief: A National Roundup

July 09, 2003 6 min read
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Judge Rejects Suit Seeking Transfers Under Federal Law

Parents have no right to file lawsuits to enforce provisions of the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, a federal district judge in New York City has ruled. The decision is apparently the first court action in the country on the question of whether states and school districts will face individual lawsuits based on the obligations imposed by the federal school improvement law.

The June 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl came in a lawsuit alleging that the New York City and Albany, N.Y., districts had denied some children their rights under the federal law to transfer out of failing public schools and to receive supplemental education services. (“Suits Contend Officials Fail to Obey ESEA,” Feb. 5, 2003.)

The 1.1 million-student New York City system and the 10,000-student Albany district sought dismissal of the suit on the grounds that the law does not confer any individual entitlements that can be enforced in court. Judge Koeltl agreed.

“It is clear that Congress did not intend to create individually enforceable rights with respect to the notice, transfer, or [supplemental educational services] provisions” in the act, he said. He based his ruling largely on the fact that just last year, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Gonzaga v. Doe that there was no private right to sue under a comparable law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.

—Mark Walsh

Hawaiian School’s Policy On Admissions Challenged

A non-Hawaiian high school student, who was twice denied admission to the Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu, is suing the private school, saying that the institution’s policy of accepting only students of Hawaiian descent is racially discriminatory.

The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Honolulu on June 25, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld, within certain limits, universities’ practice of making admission decisions that take race into account. John W. Goemans, a Kamuela, Hawaii, lawyer representing the unidentified student, said he plans to request a summary judgment, which is used when the facts of the case are not disputed.

Constance Lau, the chairwoman of the board of trustees for the pre-K-12 institution, said in a statement that the admissions policy is “consistent with applicable law,” and that the trustees will “vigorously defend” the policy.

—Linda Jacobson

Judge Rejects Charter Plan For Sacramento High School

A California judge has ruled that a proposal to convert a long-struggling Sacramento public school into a charter school flouted state regulations.

Under state rules regulating charters, Sacramento High School, as an existing public school, can gain charter status only if at least half the school’s teachers sign on to the plan, according to the June 22 ruling by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Trena H. Burger-Plavan.

In January, the school board voted to close the high school. In March, it awarded a charter to a nonprofit group in Sacramento founded by Kevin Johnson, a 1983 Sacramento High graduate who went on to play professional basketball. (“Ex-NBA Star’s Charter Plan Splits Sacramento,” March 12, 2003.)

A group of parents and teachers, supported by state and local teachers’ unions, sued the Sacramento school board and St. Hope Corp., the nonprofit organization run by Mr. Johnson, arguing teachers’ signatures were not collected. St. Hope argued that it did not need to follow state regulations for converting a school into a charter school because Sacramento High was to be closed and opened as a new school.

But the judge ruled that because St. Hope’s charter school would open on the same site, it would be considered a “conversion” and not a start- up charter. St. Hope Corp. officials said they would appeal the decision.

—John Gehring

Proposed Deal Moves Forward In Louisiana Desegregation Case

The East Baton Rouge Parish, La., school board has approved a settlement that could end the nation’s longest-running school desegregation case.

The board’s unanimous vote on June 25 moves the 47-year-old case closer to an end. But the agreement still must be approved by the rest of the parties in the case—including lawyers for the 37 original plaintiff schoolchildren—and by a federal judge.

Under the terms of an 18-page proposed settlement, the district would expand from three to seven its network of schoolwide magnet programs. It would expand some programs in other schools into “centers of excellence” with academic or career themes.

The district would continue to operate a voluntary-transfer program aimed at creating schools with enrollments no more than 55 percent black and 45 percent nonblack. About 70 percent of the district 52,000 students are black.

Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster, who assigned a top-level staff member to help settle the case, said in a statement that negotiating the agreement has been “trying at times,” but he praised the result as “historic” and pivotal to restoring citizens’ trust in the East Baton Rouge schools.

—Catherine Gewertz

New Billings, Mont., Contract Signals Improved Relations

School district leaders and the teachers’ union in Billings, Mont., have agreed on a three-year contract, one of several signs of improved labor relations in the 15,500-student district.

Teachers in the state’s largest school district ratified a contract on June 24 that gives teachers a 2.5 percent raise in base pay in the first year, 3 percent in the second year, and 3.75 percent in the third. Six board members voted for the contract, but the remaining three called it financially unwise.

Last November, teachers in Billings went on strike for three weeks. The walkout prompted the district to briefly close all of the schools, then reopen the elementary schools with replacement teachers. The union and some parents, aiming to recoup teachers’ lost pay and to rebuke school officials for holding what they said were closed deliberations, sued the district over decisions made during the strike. (“Striking Teachers in Montana Return to Work,” Dec. 11, 2002.)

In May, all parties to the suits agreed to settle under a plan that lengthened the elementary school year for students by five days, on an optional basis. The union also agreed to drop complaints about unfair labor practices.

—Bess Keller

N.Y.C. Schools to Preserve Bilingual Education Programs

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and city Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein have announced a plan for the system’s 160,000 English-language learners that preserves bilingual education.

In his 2001 campaign for mayor, Mr. Bloomberg had favored English immersion over bilingual education, according to The New York Times. But the new plan maintains the same programs that the 1.1 million-student school system now has in place to serve such students—English- as-a-second-language, dual immersion, and bilingual education.

The plan adds 107 instructional-support specialists to work in classrooms with teachers and creates a teachers’ academy. It promises to align instruction for English- language learners with that of all students, something that hasn’t been true in the past, said Diana Lam, the school district’s deputy chancellor for teaching and learning.

Ms. Lam said that while only $20 million in new money is being allocated for the plan, an additional $80 million will be spent on its execution.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Chicago Teachers’ Union Plans To Help Overhaul Failing Schools

The Chicago Teachers’ Union and the city’s public school system plan to work together to overhaul 10 low-performing schools.

The agreement, announced last month, is believed to be the first time a teachers’ union has played such a role.

Under the arrangement, the 35,000-member affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers will help school staff members implement new curricula, among other changes. If the schools don’t improve within one academic year, they ultimately may be shut down. The schools were chosen because they had already been targeted for such a fate by CPS.

Union leaders requested the job after three other schools were slated for closure last fall. Eight K-8 schools and two high schools have been targeted for the CTU’s assistance.

—Julie Blair


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