News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

October 24, 2001 4 min read
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Teacher’s Alleged Threats Tied To Pressure From Texas Tests

A 4th grade teacher accused of making violent threats against another elementary school in his Texas school district blamed his behavior on pressure from the state’s high-stakes exams.

Robert Zell Drury Jr., a teacher at Norwood Elementary School in the 6,600-student Burleson school district near Fort Worth, was charged last week with threatening to use a firearm on school property, a third-degree felony.

District officials said that repeated voice- mail messages, including some referring to assault rifles and explosives, were left at the Academy of Nola Dunn, another local elementary school, early this month.

Jerry J. Loftin, Mr. Drury’s lawyer, said the teacher never intended to hurt anyone.

He wanted instead to disrupt the other school’s program, Mr. Loftin said, apparently out of fear that its students would outscore his own on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, or TAAS, exams.

“I think he absolutely snapped,” the lawyer said. “He felt [the test] was very unfair to his students,” who were not performing as well as the teacher had hoped on practice tests.

TAAS scores in Texas are used to rate schools. Last year, the new Academy of Nola Dunn received an “exemplary” rating from the state, while Norwood Elementary was rated “acceptable.”

The academy, a school of choice, drew students who had been attending Norwood, among other schools.

Mr. Drury, an 18-year veteran, has been removed from the classroom pending the outcome of the criminal charge.

Late last week, he was released from the Johnson County jail on $300,000 bail and wearing a monitoring device.

—Bess Keller

Pa. House OKs Bill Requiring Pledge

Pennsylvania public and private school students, unless excused in writing by their parents, would have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the national anthem each day, under a bill overwhelmingly approved by the state House of Representatives last week.

The House voted 200-1 on Oct. 16 in favor of the bill, which says that no student may be compelled to recite the pledge or sing the anthem as long as the school receives a written objection from the child’s parent or guardian. The measure has been sent to the Senate.

Civil libertarians and representatives of Pennsylvania’s large Amish and Mennonite religious denominations have expressed objections to the bill.

According to the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, 25 states require schools to offer the pledge, with most making it optional for students with religious or other objections. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that students cannot be compelled to recite the pledge.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, many school districts have renewed the practice of leading the pledge and other patriotic exercises.

—Mark Walsh

S.C. Urged to Overhaul Career Ed.

South Carolina needs to stop forcing students to choose between academic and career-oriented educational paths if it wants an increasingly skilled workforce, a report issued last week advises.

Gov. Jim Hodges, a Democrat, appointed a workforce education task force to study career education in the Palmetto State. The panel made its findings public on Oct. 15.

The task force, led by Don Herriott, a pharmaceutical-company president from Florence, S.C., urges the state to enforce a 1994 state law that requires schools to link academic courses with skills needed in most workplaces. The report says lessons about communication, teamwork, and problem-solving should be a daily part of English, mathematics, and other courses.

The report suggests that the state’s efforts to improve its skilled workforce haven’t kept pace with the demands of the American economy. One in five students will seek unskilled jobs, yet far too few of those jobs exist, leaving many students without a bright future, the report says.

Two-thirds of the jobs in South Carolina require technical skills, but only one-third of students seek degrees in the state’s two-year technical colleges, while too many students seek white-collar jobs, it says.

—Alan Richard

Georgia to Cut Budget for Schools

The Georgia Department of Education has until the end of this month to meet Gov. Roy E. Barnes’ deadline for cutting spending in the current fiscal year, as well as trimming the state’s education budget for fiscal 2003.

Gov. Barnes, a Democrat, has asked all state agencies to cut 2.5 percent from their fiscal 2002 budgets and 5 percent from next year’s. The education department’s current budget is more than $6 billion.

At a meeting on Oct. 11, education department officials presented the state school board with recommendations for cutting the needed $1.4 million from the current budget and $2.8 million from next year’s spending plan.

Among the areas being considered for cutbacks are “virtual” learning programs, the Reading Recovery early-literacy program, and special education programs. Board Chairman Otis A. Brumby also asked four members of the board to review the recommendations so the board could meet the deadline.

—Linda Jacobson

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