News in Brief: A National Roundup

May 05, 2004 6 min read
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Ky. Supreme Court Expands Hiring Powers of Schools

Kentucky’s highest court has expanded the hiring powers of the parent-teacher councils that oversee each of the state’s schools.

District officials must share with the site-based boards the resumes of all qualified applicants for a vacant principal position—not just the ones the superintendent recommends, the court ruled in a 5-2 decision last month.

The state’s 1990 school reform statute gives school councils the power to hire principals from a pool of applicants provided by the superintendent. In two recent cases heard jointly by the Kentucky Supreme Court, superintendents said they didn’t have to forward applications of people they considered to be poor candidates.

But the law requires the superintendent to hand over the application of anyone who is a certified administrator, the court ruled on April 22.

“These councils were created in direct response to widely documented instances of mismanagement that most agreed were incubated in, if not caused by, an overly centralized system of school governance in which vast decisionmaking authority rested in the hands of a few key players,” Justice Martin E. Johnstone wrote in the opinion for the majority.

The largest teachers’ union in the state hailed the decision as a victory for teachers and parents.

“The creation of school-based decisionmaking councils was meant to get decisionmaking power into the hands of the professionals and parents in the schools,” said Frances Steenbergen, the president of the Kentucky Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

—David J. Hoff

Agriculture Officials Remove Giant Snails From Wis. School

Federal agricultural officials removed five giant African land snails from a Wisconsin elementary school last week, after a teacher’s Internet research found that the snails are dangerous pests.

Linda Joosten, the principal of the 102-student Nicolet Elementary School in Menasha, said the snails were donated by a parent and put in 1st and 3rd grade classrooms for the children to observe. When fully grown, the snails can measure up to 12 inches in length.

But after a teacher logged on to the Internet to learn more about the creatures, school officials discovered that the voracious eaters are agricultural pests and also can transmit meningitis to humans. The snails are not legal to possess in the United States without a permit.

The school got in touch with local and state authorities, who alerted the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Federal officials removed the snails, which had been moved to the school’s office, away from students.

Last fall, federal agricultural officials seized more than 80 illegal giant African land snails from commercial pet stores and a private breeder in Wisconsin.

—Ann Bradley

Ariz. District Offices Searched As Part of Software Probe

Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched an administrative building of the Deer Valley, Ariz., school district on April 21, according to officials of the 32,000-student district in the Phoenix area.

In a letter to parents, Superintendent Virginia McElyea said that the warrant authorizing the search had been sealed by a judge, keeping secret the nature or target of the investigation, but that officials believed it was part of a large-scale undercover investigation focused on the theft of intellectual property such as music, software, and movies.

Called Operation FastLink, the FBI probe involved 120 searches last month in 27 states and 10 foreign countries, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The probe is aimed at “individuals and organizations known as ‘warez’ release groups that specialize in the Internet distribution of pirated materials” and that are “the original source for most of the pirated works traded or distributed online,” department officials said.

At an April 22 press conference, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said school districts are targets for file- stealing organizations because of the districts’ large number of networked computers and their powerful Internet connections.

—Andrew Trotter

Pupil Who Threatened Teacher To Finish Year at Different School

A New Jersey 6th grader will return to a different school after serving a nearly monthlong suspension for threatening his highly allergic teacher with a peanut-butter cookie.

On April 2, according to his classmates at South Orange Middle School, the student waved a Nutter-Butter cookie in the air while his social studies teacher, Caroline Pew, was out of the room, and said that he planned to use it as protection if she attempted to take any disciplinary action against him.

The student was set to return to school this week, but not to the same 780-student school. According to Judy Levy, the communications coordinator for the South Orange district, the student’s parents and school administrators agreed that it would be best if he finished out the year, which ends June 23, at the district’s 725-student Maplewood Middle School.

The student’s parents, however, have requested a hearing before the school board in an effort to have their son’s record expunged. That hearing is scheduled for May 13.

—Catherine A. Carroll

Parents Sue Ohio District Over Beer Drinking on Trip

Parents who gave permission for their children to visit beer gardens and drink alcohol on an exchange trip to Munich, Germany, are now suing a Cincinnati- area school district after the district later disciplined their children for excessive drinking.

An April 21 complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati seeks an injunction to stop the 1,700-student Mariemont City School District from requiring 17 students who were on the 12-day trip in March to perform weekend community service.

The school board initially suspended the students, but after a hearing last month in which parents and students spoke about the trip, board members lessened the punishment to community service.

“This is about parents’ rights,” said Richard Ward, a lawyer representing parents of two students suing the district. Mr. Ward said he expects other parents and students to join the lawsuit.

In a April 27 press release, the district school board defended its actions.

“The board believed then, and believes now, that this decision balances all of the equities present, and is fair and just resolution,” the statement said, adding that the district intends to “vigorously defend” itself against the lawsuit.

—John Gehring

Student Loses Bid to Post Gay-Themed Election Signs

A North Carolina state judge last week denied a request from a gay student and the American Civil Liberties Union for a temporary restraining order to force school officials to replace the student’s campaign posters, which they had removed because of homosexual themes.

The state chapter of the ACLU and the student, Jarred Gamwell, 17, went to court after officials at James B. Hunt High School in Wilson, N.C., removed campaign signs that said, “Queer Eye for Hunt High” and “Gay Guys Know Everything.”

Mr. Gamwell lost the election for president of the student government association last week.

ACLU lawyers maintained that administrators violated Mr. Gamwell’s rights to free expression by taking down the posters.

“I feel it’s important to stand up for my rights to let other students know it’s wrong for a school to stop them from being open and proud about who they are,” Mr. Gamwell said in a statement.

A letter to the ACLU from the school district’s lawyer said that the signs were disruptive and had nothing to do with Mr. Gamwell’s qualifications for office.

Principal Bill Williamson canceled the student-government campaign speeches, according to news reports. He refused to comment on the case last week.

—Joetta L. Sack


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