News in Brief: A National Roundup

August 11, 2004 4 min read


The embattled California Charter Academy announced last week that it was shutting down most of its schools amid an ongoing state investigation.

The academy relinquished two of its four charters, which will displace as many as 4,000 students in numerous schools, according to Ann Bancroft, a spokeswoman for the state department of education.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced last week that he has called for the release of the academic records of the affected students to ensure that they can easily transfer to other schools.

The academy has operated a network of at least 60 satellite schools under the four charters. Earlier this year state officials began investigating the group’s practices, believing that many of the campuses were hundreds of miles away from the school districts that authorized the charters, and that many of the enrolled students were over the age of 19 and had not attended regular public schools prior to enrolling in the charter schools. Both are violations of state law.

—Joetta L. Sack

U.S. Home School Numbers Post Gains Since 1999

About 2.2 percent of school-age children nationwide were taught at home in 2003, representing a 29 percent increase since 1999, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Department of Education.

In a statistical report released last month, the department’s National Center for Education Statistics notes that the estimated number of home-schooled students nationwide grew from 850,000 in 1999 to 1.1 million |in 2003. The estimates are based on surveys given to the parents of a nationally representative sample of 11,994 students between the ages of 5 and 17.

More than 60 percent of the parents who home-schooled said they did so for one of two reasons: They were concerned about the environment in their children’s regular schools, or they wanted to provide their children with religious and moral instruction. Only 16 percent cited dissatisfaction with academic instruction in their decisions.

—Debra Viadero

Improvement Plans Draw Ire Of Chicago School Principals

Some Chicago principals are grumbling about new efforts that district officials say are aimed at improving the way building leaders run their schools.

About 20 of the city’s 600 principals have been given “corrective-action plans” that spell out areas of improvement for them to work on, including personnel management, fiscal operations, and interpersonal relations. Officials of the 434,000-student district said they issued the plans to offer guidance to administrators in schools experiencing performance problems.

But the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association argues that the plans feel more like punishment. In addition, the group complains that the corrective-action process hamstrings principals by telling them how to manage their buildings.

—Jeff Archer

California Supreme Court Sides With Poem Author

The California Supreme Court has reversed a lower court’s conviction of a 15- year-old Santa Teresa High School student charged with making criminal threats in a poem.

In March 2001, the minor, identified in court documents as George T., gave copies of a poem he had written to three fellow students.

One of the students felt threatened and informed a teacher. The teacher then informed the principal, who called the police. The poem, called “Faces,” contained the lines: “For I am Dark, Destructive, & Dangerous. … For I can be the next kid to bring guns to kill students at school. ...”

In a unanimous decision, the court acknowledged that school officials were justified in their reaction to the poem—particularly because there had been a shooting recently at a nearby school—but ruled that the poem did not constitute a criminal threat.

Writing the main opinion, Associate Justice Carlos R. Moreno, cited the poem’s ambiguity, as well as the interpretive nature of poems in general as reasons for the decision.

—Catherine A. Carroll

Vermont Arbiter Rules For Fired Teacher

Wayne Nadeau, a Vermont teacher who declined a top leadership post with the National Education Association after knowledge of his sexual liaisons with a teaching assistant in his classroom became public, has won his job back.

The Lamoille Union High School District board in Hyde Park, Vt., fired Mr. Nadeau last September on the basis of allegations of inappropriate behavior such as drinking alcohol during a school-sponsored trip to Russia in 1996. (“In Wake of Scandal, NEA Board Member Resigns,” Aug. 6, 2003.)

Mr. Nadeau challenged the firing in October after he declined to serve on the NEA’s nine-member executive committee, to which he had recently been elected. At the end of last month, an arbiter ruled the school board had lacked sufficient evidence for the dismissal.

Mr. Nadeau could not be reached for comment, and a spokeswoman for the NEA-Vermont said the union would not comment on any aspect of the case.

—Bess Keller