Update News

February 28, 1990 3 min read
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Norward Roussell, the embattled superintendent of the Selma, Ala., public schools, has filed a lawsuit seeking $10 million in damages from the city’s board of education for allegedly violating his civil rights in deciding not to renew his contract when it expires in June.

The board’s Dec. 21 decision not to renew Mr. Roussell’s contract sparked boycotts and protests reminiscent of the events that made Selma a leading symbol of the civil-rights struggles of the 1960’s, and forced the closing of schools for four days this month. (See Education Week, Feb. 21, 1990.)

Mr. Roussell’s lawsuit, which was filed in federal district court in Mobile, Ala., alleges that the board’s decision on his contract was motivated, at least in part, by racial discrimination. It specifically cites negative reactions to the superintendent’s efforts to reduce inequities in an ability-grouping system that is widely perceived by blacks as a means of limiting their educational opportunities.

The district’s 11 schools remained under the protection of state troopers and National Guardsmen last week, and black leaders vowed to continue protests aimed at city officials and certain businesses until the school board agrees to retain Mr. Roussell, who is the district’s first black superintendent.

The Detroit school board has approved a major reorganization of the district’s administrative structure that will eliminate almost 1,500 positions, including 25 percent of the district’s high-level administrative staff.

School officials say the plan can be implemented without layoffs. Several hundred positions became vacant during the district’s recent financial crisis, and an undetermined number may be granted incentives to retire early. In addition, employees whose jobs are eliminated will be placed in a pool for reassignment.

The reorganization, which became effective after gaining board approval this month, reduces the number of administrative divisions from 15 to 11, and the number of departments from 44 to 21.

One portion of the plan--the elimination of 13 currently vacant assistant superintendent positions and their supporting staff--will save the district more than $1 million during the current year, officials estimated.

The reorganization is the latest part of Superintendent John W. Porter’s efforts to improve the district’s management, educational, and financial performance. (See Education Week, Sept. 20, 1989.)

The New York State Board of Regents has voted overwhelmingly to endorse a plan to revise the public-school curriculum to focus more attention on minorities and nonwhite cultures.

The 13 members of the 16-member board present at a Feb. 16 meeting voted unanimously to direct Commissioner of Education Thomas Sobol to develop a plan to increase student awareness of the various American ethnic groups and other peoples of the world.

The regents were not asked, however, to endorse A Curriculum of Inclusion, a controversial report by the commissioner’s task force on minorities that has been criticized for its inflammatory rhetoric. (See Education Week, Feb. 14, 1990.)

The board directed Mr. Sobol to submit a plan for curriculum revision in April. He is expected to appoint a panel of scholars to assist in the revision process, which may take two years.

Mr. Sobol also said he has approached education officials in other states, including California, to assist him in pressuring textbook publishers to develop texts with more of a multicultural perspective.

A group of parents and students in Purdy, Mo., have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeals-court ruling that the Purdy school board has the right to prohibit school dances.

Last fall, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld by a 5-to-4 vote the decision of a three-member panel of the court, which overturned a federal judge’s ruling that the dance ban violates the constitutional separation of church and state. (See Education Week, Sept. 27, 1989.)

The plaintiffs contend that the Purdy school board has not allowed school dances on school property for approximately 60 years because of the influence of fundamentalist churches, which believe dancing is a forbidden sin.

A decision on whether the High Court will hear the case is expected by April.

A version of this article appeared in the February 28, 1990 edition of Education Week as Update News


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