News in Brief: A National Roundup

October 01, 2004 6 min read
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The Missouri Supreme Court paved the way last week for the Kansas City school district to end its sponsorship of the state’s largest charter school.

The board of the 30,000-student Kansas City district voted last spring not to renew its approval of the 1,300-student Westport Community Charter School, which the district has sponsored for the past four years.

Although the charter school then sued and won in circuit court, the state Court of Appeals reversed that decision last month. Westport officials immediately sought and won an emergency injunction from the state supreme court, which agreed to hear arguments in the case. (“Missouri High Court to Hear Charter Dispute,” Sept. 8, 2004.)

On Sept. 8, the state’s highest court vacated its earlier injunction against the district and transferred the case back to the Court of Appeals.

A school district lawyer said last week that the district would ask the appeals court to reinstate its earlier ruling in favor of the district, and that the district hoped a “smooth transition toward district operation of the school” could begin this week. Charter school officials were not available for comment.

—John Gehring

California District Will Be Plaintiff in Lawsuit Over Gender Definition

The school board of the Westminister, Calif., district voted 3-2 on Sept. 2 to be a plaintiff in a pending lawsuit challenging the California Department of Education over a regulation about schools’ treatment of people according to their gender.

Three of the five members of the board made an issue of the regulation last school year, when the state required the district to change its discrimination policy to include protection for people based on their perceived sex as well as their biological sex. (“Calif. Board Splits Over Gender Identification,” March 24, 2004.) But the school board eventually altered its policy so as to avoid a confrontation with the state department of education and possible loss of some federal and state funding.

Mark W. Bucher, the district’s general counsel, said last week that the lawsuit on the gender regulation is expected to be filed this month by the Alliance Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization in Scottsdale, Ariz., that is paying for the challenge.

The lawsuit will assert that the regulation on gender doesn’t conform with state law and thus that the regulation is illegal, according to Mr. Bucher.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Texas Student Asks School Board to Allow Him to Grow Long Hair

The Harlingen, Texas, school board is to decide this week whether to make an exception to the district’s dress code to accommodate a teenage boy who wants to grow long hair and donate it to sick children.

Gerardo Lozano Jr., 16, a student at South Texas High School, has been ordered by school officials to cut his hair. The 17,000-student district’s dress code specifies that boys’ hair can be no longer than shoulder length. There are no guidelines for the length of girls’ hair.

Mr. Lozano has said that he intends to donate his hair to an organization called Locks of Love, in Lake Worth, Fla., which provides hairpieces to needy children suffering from hair loss for medical reasons.

Linda Wade, the superintendent of the district, said Mr. Lozano’s case was a difficult one, since he exemplifies the character traits the schools are trying to teach. But students’ dress and appearance also affect the learning environment, she said.

The school board is set to decide on Sept. 17 whether to make an exception to the dress code for the student’s charitable project.

—Ann Bradley

D.C. Charter Schools Are Unfair to Poor Students, Lawsuit Says

A lawsuit filed against the District of Columbia public schools and other Washington city agencies argues that officials are promoting charter schools instead of improving public schools that serve large numbers of low-income black students.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Sept. 1 by Save our Schools Southeast and Northeast, a group of public school parents and advocates.

Charter schools have significant funding and resource advantages over regular public schools, including being allowed to use space in some school buildings at below-market costs, the suit says. At the same time, it adds, officials at various levels of city government have allowed a poor governance structure for the schools to “foster a culture of irresponsibility” for the problems facing the system.

Officials of the 67,000-student school district did not return a call for comment.

— A.B.

Two California Districts Are Sued Over Programs for Pregnant Teens

A group of pregnant and parenting teenagers last week sued two California school districts, claiming they were moved to substandard alternative programs instead of being allowed to continue their studies at their regular high schools.

The lawsuit, filed with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, contends that the Antelope Valley Union High School District and the Los Angeles County Office of Education violated state and federal law.

Under the California School Age Families Program, known as Cal-SAFE, such students are provided with child care and instruction in life skills and parenting. But those enrolled can’t be denied the right to take regular high school classes.

The lawsuit alleges that teenage mothers were instead assigned to programs run by the districts that were little more than study halls.

Officials with the Antelope Valley district did not return a call for comment; the county office of education declined to comment on the pending litigation.


S.C. Desegregation Pioneers Honored

Four late South Carolinians who helped start the legal battle to end segregated public education in the United States received one of the nation’s highest honors last week.

Congressional leaders posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to Harry and Eliza Briggs, Levi Pearson, and the Rev. Joseph A. De Laine for their roles in court cases that challenged the segregation of black students in Clarendon County, S.C.

Viola Pearson, the widow of Levi Pearson, receives an award in his honor on Sept. 8 at the U.S. Capitol. Also taking part in the ceremony were U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, left, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, center, and Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert.
—Lawrence Jackson/AP

The 1950 lawsuit Briggs v. Elliott was the first of the cases that together became Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, resulting in the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared racially separate school systems unconstitutional.

Relatives of the late activists received their awards before hundreds of onlookers in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Sept. 8. Some audience members stood, called out, and raised their hands in joy when Viola Pearson of Davis Station, S.C., received her late husband’s award.

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige spoke in place of President Bush, who was in Florida surveying hurricane damage. Other dignitaries praised the recipients for their bravery and for their relatively little-known roles in the early civil rights movement.

“This was the crowd that built the bridge for Martin Luther King to cross,” said U.S. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., who led the legislative campaign to award the medals.

B.B. De Laine of Charlotte, N.C., one of Joseph De Laine’s sons, added that equality for black students in Clarendon County will require still more work. (“Stuck in Time,” Jan. 21, 2004.)

—Alan Richard


Contract in Denver: Members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association have ratified a contract that will give teachers a 1 percent cost-of-living raise and a higher monthly allowance for health benefits. Of the 2,434 votes case, 71.5 percent were in favor of the one-year agreement, the union said.


Full-Day Kindergarten: The Los Angeles Unified School District has launched a full-day kindergarten program in about 40 percent of its elementary schools. The program for 16,800 children at 173 schools is the first phase of a plan to have full-day programs in all 430 of the district’s elementary schools within four years.

—Catherine Gewertz

Hurricane Closures: School districts in Florida were struggling to reopen after being battered by Hurricane Frances. State officials said schools in 21 counties were still closed late last week; schools in 47 counties had reopened.

—Marianne D. Hurst


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