News in Brief: A National Roundup

August 06, 2003 7 min read
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N.Y.C. to Expand School For Gay, Lesbian Youths

The nation’s first public high school devoted to the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students will open this fall in New York City.

Harvey Milk High School is an expansion of a public school program that has been operating since 1984, through a partnership between the 1.1 million- student district’s education department and the Hetrick-Martin Institute. The classes will continue to be offered at the institute, which is a nonprofit advocacy and multiservice group for gay youths.

“Some of the kids who are gays and lesbians have been constantly harassed and beaten in other schools,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York said at a news conference. “This way it sort of solves that problem.”

The $3.2 million expansion will increase enrollment at the school from 50 students to about 100 this fall. Harvey Milk High School also will be able to grant diplomas. The school is named for the slain San Francisco city supervisor who was one of California’s first openly gay elected officials.

—Karla Scoon Reid

California Commission Launches New ‘Universal’ Preschool Effort

First 5 California, the commission that administers the state’s Proposition 10 tobacco tax, will spend $100 million to begin offering “universal” preschool throughout the state.

Over the next five years, the money will be used to match what local county First 5 commissions spend on preschool. State officials say they expect to work first with between five and 10 counties to serve children who are either not being served or are in poor-quality programs.

The state commission’s action, which was unanimously approved by the eight members July 22, follows steps in some counties to move forward with establishing preschool programs.

The 50-cent- per-pack tobacco tax, which also pays for health-care and child-care improvements for children age 5 and under, was approved in 1998.

—Linda Jacobson

Colorado District’s Financial Crisis Involved No Crimes, Probe Finds

A seven-month investigation has concluded that a Colorado district’s financial crisis involved poor planning and lax oversight, but no criminal wrongdoing.

The probe by the Boulder County district attorney followed revelations last fall that the 22,000-student St. Vrain Valley school district faced a $14 million deficit in its $122 million budget. Correcting the problem has required a series of state loans, as well as deep cuts in salaries and programs. (“Money Troubles,” June 11, 2003.)

News of the shortfall came days after local voters approved a $213 million school construction bond. That timing prompted questions about whether the problem had been kept under wraps until after the election. The Boulder County district attorney, however, found no evidence that district officials had misled the public, or that money was stolen.

Instead, its investigation backed the contention by district leaders that mismanagement was the main culprit.

—Jeff Archer

U.S. Judge Orders Districts To Move Girls’ Soccer Season

Two New York state school districts are breaking the law by playing girls’ soccer games in the spring rather than in the fall, a federal judge has ruled.

Judge Charles L. Brieant of the U.S. District Court in White Plains ruled on July 8 that Mamaroneck Union Free School District and Pelham Union Free School District must accommodate both girls’ and boys’ soccer competition in the fall. The judge delayed the effect of the ruling until any appeals in the case are settled.

Most districts in New York, and around the country, have a fall soccer season for both girls and boys. The judge said the scheduling of games is an important part of ensuring equal opportunity under Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal money.

Filed by two parents of students in Mamaroneck and Pelham high schools, the lawsuit argued that having soccer in the spring hurt students’ chances for exposure to college recruiting and limited their ability to play on competitive private club teams that usually have a spring schedule.

The school districts argued that a majority of team members did not want the season changed. They also maintained that shifting the season would cause conflict over field time with other fall sports.

—John Gehring

Arkansas District Settles Lawsuit With Gay Student

An Arkansas school district has agreed not to discipline any students for disclosing or discussing their sexual orientation and not to subject students to religious preaching or forced Bible readings.

The agreement signed last week by Donald J. Henderson, the superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District, settles a federal lawsuit on behalf of a 14-year-old student, who is gay.

The 18,000-student district also pledged not to disclose any student’s sexual orientation to others without his or her consent, and agreed to pay the boy’s family and his lawyers $25,000.

Thomas N. McLaughlin and his parents complained in the suit filed last spring that personnel at the 750-student Jacksonville Junior High School, near Little Rock, violated his rights by revealing to others that he was homosexual, by preaching to the boy, and by ordering him not to discuss his sexual orientation at school.

“We deny the allegations that were set forth,” Mr. Henderson said in an interview. He added that the district agreed to no change in its policy, which is not to “discriminate against anyone for any reason.”

—Andrew Trotter

N.Y.C. School Sued Over Health Tests Ordered for Girls After Party

Administrators at a New York City school required several 8th grade girls to be tested by a doctor for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases after they allegedly attended a party where teenagers had sex, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.

In the lawsuit, brought last month on behalf of two female students, identified only as 14-year-old “Susan Roe” and 13-year-old “Jane Doe,” the New York Civil Liberties Union alleges that Principal Vera Hamburger of Intermediate School 164 and other school officials required the plaintiffs to “subject themselves to invasive medical examinations, including a pelvic exam, a pregnancy test, and a screening for sexually transmitted diseases ... as a condition of their return to classes.”

The administrators of the upper Manhattan school demanded the tests after hearing that 11 girls and one boy had skipped school in April to attend a “hooky party,” the civil liberties group alleges in its lawsuit.

Officials with the New York City department of education did not return calls for comment.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

N.J. Court Finds School Board Liable for Principal’s Misconduct

A school district in northern New Jersey is liable for failing to protect students from a former elementary school principal convicted of taking sexually suggestive photographs of young boys, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled last week.

The July 28 decision came in a lawsuit brought by two students and their parents against the Elmwood Park, N.J., board of education and the former principal, Samuel R. Bracigliano.

Mr. Bracigliano, who was the principal of the Gilbert Avenue Elementary School in Elmwood Park from 1982 to 1990, was convicted in 1992 on charges of official misconduct for improperly touching 10 students and for photographing dozens of boys in his office. Although some of the charges were overturned on appeal, he spent four years in prison before being paroled in 1996.

At issue before the state high court was whether a trial-court judge erred when she assigned liability to the school board, instead of allowing a jury to decide the matter. The high court found that the judge was right, because the evidence that the district had failed to stop the principal’s behavior was “so overpowering.”

The high court did send the case back to the trial court, however, to decide what portions of the damages should be paid by the district and the former principal. The jury had awarded damages totaling $776,250 to the two families.

The Elmwood Park superintendent declined last week to comment on the case, saying that the district had yet to receive official notice of the ruling.

—Caroline Hendrie

Minneapolis Superintendent To Take Memphis Chief’s Job

Minneapolis Superintendent Carol R. Johnson will return to her home state in October to lead the 118,000-student Memphis school district.

Ms. Johnson, 55, who has spent the past six years as the superintendent of the 50,000-student Minneapolis school system, is a native of West Tennessee.

Ms. Johnson’s salary has not been finalized by the Memphis board. She currently earns $160,000 a year in Minneapolis.

Ms. Johnson will replace Johnnie B. Watson, who announced his retirement in January after joining the district as superintendent in 2000.

—Karla Scoon Reid


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