State News Roundup

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The Mississippi High School Activities Association, the state's governing body for interscholastic sports, has agreed to add one- and two-mile races for girls to its roster of events.

Beginning with this spring's track season, under the terms of an out-of-court settlement reached on Feb. 5, all public and some private high schools in the state must offer the events.

Teresa Harmon, a cross-country champion, had first filed a sex-discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, charging that the association and its member-schools were offering opportunities to boys that were not available to girls.

The Title IX complaint, however, "was moving too slowly," said Jan Lewis, director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Ms. Harmon. "This girl's a senior. We had to move fast."

So the aclu filed suit in U.S. District Court, and the settlement was reached the night before the suit was scheduled for a court hearing.

"We're delighted with the settlement," Ms. Lewis said. "We got everything we wanted."

Voters in the state of Washington last week gave school officials a pleasant surprise by readily approving local property-tax levies that will yield a total of more than $315 million. With results in six districts still in question, losses totaled less than $12 million.

The heavy voter turnout and high success rate defied gloomy predictions for the levies from economists, educators, and the news media.

Three bad omens had caused concern that the levies would fail: the state's depressed economy and 11-percent unemployment rate; a relatively small number of requests for absentee ballots; and the belief that voters were poorly informed about the state's role in school finance.

But across the state, parents and students organized to promote the 124 levies through mailings and door-to-door visits. In Seattle, supporters set up an office and formed a committee called School Levy Yes. Voter turnout in the city was 3 percent higher than average, and the voters approved two measures that will yield $86.4 million over two years.

Under Washington law, districts can levy property taxes for all educational needs beyond the "basics"--teachers' salaries and other necessities--that are provided by the state. Items such as maintenance and operational costs, special programs for exceptional students, new buildings and remodeling costs, and other programs are financed by levies currently limited to 10 percent of the previous year's state basic-education allotment.

School districts in West Virginia are anxious for a chance to be among the six districts where the state's newly developed "educational standards" will be tested in the coming year, according to Roy Truby, the state's superintendent of education.

The standards, developed last fall, were ordered by the 1981 legislature along with numerous other educational reforms. They cover 12 general areas, including curriculum, staff development, facilities, finance, food service, instruction, organization and administration, planning and evaluation, school and community relations, and transportation.

All school districts in the state are required to have the standards in place by July of 1983.

School-district officials in Ohio and Michigan have proposed that their schools be closed down for a period during the next school year to avert financial collapse.

Shutdowns used to be commonplace in Ohio, but for the past few years they have been illegal. Instead, school systems are allowed to borrow the money they need to stay open from a special state loan fund. Districts taking out the loans are subject to considerable state control.

However, in view of impending cuts in state aid--which could amount to as much as $530 million over the next 18 months--officials of at least 17 districts have said they would consider breaking the law and closing their schools rather than borrowing money.

In addition, the boards of three school systems in suburban Cleveland are investigating the possibility of suing the state to force restoration of some of the lost funds.

In Michigan, officials of the state's 20 largest school districts except Detroit have proposed that the next school year be shortened from 180 days to 175. The move, the local officials argue, would save the state approximately $25 million.

The 20 districts also want the state to impose a one-year pay freeze for all public employees--a proposal considered by many state leaders to be illegal in view of existing contracts.

Maine's state board of education and the state attorney general have launched separate investigations into alleged sexual and physical abuses at a state-operated school for the deaf.

The alleged abuses of students who attended the Baxter School for the Deaf as long ago as 1969 were revealed in a magazine article published this month. The article, written by a free-lance journalist at the expense of the Maine Association of Handicapped Persons, quotes 16 former students, some of whom graduated without learning to read or write.

David N. Stockford, state director of special education, said the article's allegations are "going to be thoroughly investigated." He said the state school board has appointed a committee to review the educational programs and related services provided at the school.

"The Governor has ordered an investigation simultaneously by the attorney general's office," Mr. Stockford said. That investigation, he said, could lead to criminal charges.

Mr. Stockford said there had been "concerns expressed" about the school before, but no allegations of physical and sexual abuse surfaced until the article was published.

Approximately 110 residential and day students attend the school.

The Idaho House Education Committee has sent a bill that would require public schools to set aside a minute-long period "for meditation or prayer" each morning to the full legis-lative body for consideration.

Representative Gary Paxman, the bill's sponsor, said the proposed law "would force no one to subscribe to any particular religion."

"It's one thing for the courts to say that we must maintain separation of church and state, but quite another thing to say that we must maintain separation of God and state," he said.

Representative Paxman said that the bill, which cleared the House committee on an 11-to-5 vote, would not violate the Supreme Court's order barring prayer in schools because it would not require mandatory, organized, or spoken prayer.

Mr. Paxman said that he thinks the bill stands a strong chance of winning the support of his colleagues, although he concedes that it would probably face a court challenge.

The Vermont department of education has granted immigrant status to a Canadian couple's five children for purpose of education, allowing them to attend the Waitsfield public schools.

The department overruled the local school board, which had denied the children free schooling because their adoptive parents, Frances and Jerry Steinberg, are not permanent residents of the U.S. Ms. Steinberg works in Montreal, but the family owns a home and pays taxes in Waitsfield.

Lawyers representing the family contended that their immigration status is irrelevant in determining the children's eligibility for public education. Lloyd Kelley, state commissioner of education, rejected that argument, but granted the children admission to the schools, citing Ms. Steinberg's intention to stay in Waitsfield as an overriding factor.

Wayne Duprey, president of the Waitsfield school board, said the board will not appeal Mr. Kelley's decision unless the Supreme Court rules, in a similar case involving Mexican children in Texas, that the children of illegal aliens are not entitled to a free education. The Court heard oral arguments in the Texas case, Plyler v. Doe, in December.

Vol. 01, Issue 21

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