News In Brief

January 01, 1998 7 min read

Board Taps Teacher

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards celebrated its 10th anniversary in October by electing a teacher, Barbara Kelley, to head its governing body. Kelley, a physical education teacher at the Vine Street School in Bangor, Maine, is the first teacher to chair the 63-member board. Since its founding, the privately organized board has set standards for accomplished teaching in 21 fields, created and administered performance assessments in seven fields, tested more than 2,000 teachers, and awarded national certification to 594. Eight states now pay nationally certified teachers higher salaries. Kelly replaces North Carolina Governor James Hunt Jr., who will continue to work to promote the national certification system.

Bias Case Settled

Heading off a showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court over affirmative action, the Piscataway, New Jersey, school board agreed in November to settle a race-discrimination lawsuit filed by a white teacher laid off in favor of a black colleague. In a move that caught many observers off guard, the district board voted 5-3 to settle its dispute with Sharon Taxman, a business education teacher who was laid off in 1989 so the district could retain Debra Williams, the only black teacher in the business education department at Piscataway High School. The two teachers had equal seniority, so the board kept Williams to maintain racial diversity in the department. The circumstances of the settlement were unusual. The school board had lost in lower federal courts but had decided to appeal to the Supreme Court against the advice of civil rights advocates who feared the court’s ruling would scale back affirmative action in employment. Following the settlement, it was announced that a coalition of civil rights groups agreed to pay more than two-thirds of the $433,500 settlement to Taxman. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund was said to be a prime mover behind the settlement.

Chase Who?

When the TV quiz show Jeopardy featured a week of “D.C. Power Players” in November, the name Bob Chase didn’t ring a bell for the program’s media-celebrity contestants: Wolf Blitzer, White House reporter for CNN; Arianna Huffington, a conservative political analyst; and movie director Oliver Stone. Under the category “Lobbyists” for $400, panelists were given this answer: “Bob Chase, the president of this teachers’ union, has a regular column in the Washington Post.” Blitzer buzzed in with “What is the American Federation of Teachers?” (On Jeopardy, answers must be given in the form of a question.) Host Alex Trebek then gave the other panelists a shot, and neither came up with “What is the NEA?” Kathleen Lyons, a spokeswoman for the National Education Association, says she wishes she’d introduced herself to Blitzer when she saw him at a recent Washington function. He isn’t likely to confuse the two national unions again, though. Lyons has since “sent him some Bob Chase stuff.”

Sign Of The Times

An elementary school in New Orleans will no longer bear the name of the first president of the United States. The Orleans Parish school board voted unanimously this past fall to change the name of George Washington Elementary School to Dr. Charles Richard Drew Elementary School, honoring the black surgeon known for developing methods to preserve blood plasma. The switch is in keeping with a 1992 board policy that bans the naming of public schools after former slave owners or individuals deemed not to have respected equal opportunity. In the past five years, 22 schools in the parish have changed their names.

No Mercy

The New Haven, Connecticut, school board voted unanimously in November to fire a physical education teacher for participating in a strip search of 22 5th graders to look for $40 a classmate reported missing. The board ignored the recommendation of a hearing panel, which had ruled 2-1 in favor of retaining Jackie Robinson Middle School teacher Marie Young. The panel majority said the district had poorly communicated its policy on student searches. But superintendent Reginald Mayo urged the board to dismiss Young anyway for showing poor judgment. According to a district lawyer, the board has also begun termination proceedings against the school’s assistant principal.

Time In A Bottle

Eleven years ago, 4th and 5th graders at an elementary school in Venice, Florida, put messages into bottles, sealed them with wax, and dropped them into the ocean. One of the students was 9-year-old Grayson Morris. Last August, an airport security officer found Morris’ bottle on a beach in the Bahamas. He got in touch with the elementary school in October, and Morris, now a 20-year-old mechanical engineering student at Rice University in Houston, received word that his bottle had been found. Morris says he finds it “pretty hilarious” that someone found his bottle, which he’d long forgotten about. His message: “How about peace throughout the world?”

Jury Finds Bias

A federal court jury has awarded $70,000 to a man who said he was denied a teaching job at a Colorado high school because he has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. The jury found that the Fort Morgan school district violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when it passed over 27-year-old Lance Carr for the math position at Fort Morgan High School. Carr applied for the full-time position in 1995 after completing a student-teaching stint at the school. The suit alleged that the school’s principal had made fun of disabled students in the past and refused to interview Carr for the job. Officials of the 3,000-student district contended that Carr did not get the job because he lacked professional classroom experience. Carr’s lawyer plans to ask the judge to order the district to hire his client for the next open position. The district is considering an appeal.

AIDS Scare

School leaders in Collins, Ohio, offered free confidential HIV tests in November to 30 5th graders after some parents feared a classroom experiment might have exposed the students to the virus that causes AIDS. As part of a recent science lesson, the youngsters had pricked their fingers with a sewing needle and smeared drops of their blood onto a glass plate in order to examine cells under a microscope. Their teacher at Western Reserve Middle School cleaned the needle with antibacterial soap after each puncture, but that, administrators said, would not adequately sterilize it. Parents of at least 16 children accepted officials’ offer, reporting to a local hospital for the free, confidential blood test. The superintendent of the district said he plans to reprimand the teacher.

Back For More?

A teacher in a Roman Catholic high school could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of breaking a New Hampshire law that bars convicted sexual offenders from working with children. The Hillsborough County attorney’s office says that Brother Shawn McEnany broke the state prohibition by taking a job at the 800-student Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, two years after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor sexual-contact charge involving a 15-year-old female parochial school student in Maine. Following a local journalist’s inquiry, Nashua police investigated the matter and arrested Brother McEnany. A lawyer representing Brother McEnany says the teacher did not believe that the New Hampshire law, which went into effect after his Maine conviction, applied to a misdemeanor.

Promise Keeper

On the night he was elected governor of Louisiana in November 1995, Mike Foster, a wealthy businessman, made an unusual pledge: If the state did not raise teacher salaries to the average for the Southern states by the end of his first two years in office, he would forgo his own $95,000 salary. This year, Foster will do just that. Although Louisiana teachers received raises in 1996 and 1997, they are paid on average about $29,000, some $6,000 below the Southeast average of $35,000. So, Foster, a Republican, has announced that as of January 8, he will turn over his paycheck to the state fund for teacher pay. The $95,000 could raise the salaries of 15 teachers to the regional average. Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Fred Skelton said the step is appreciated but “will be truly futile if we are unable to reach the regional average soon. We urge Governor Foster to present a budget that includes significant raises for teachers.”