District News Roundup

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The controversy over efforts to require background checks and financial-disclosure statements of many New York City school officials has been partially resolved.

The Board of Education reached a compromise this month with the city's Department of Investigation over an issue that had delayed the implementation of the background checks.

However, state and federal courts last week temporarily exempted two groups from the background check and from compliance with the financial-disclosure statement--members of the city's 32 community school boards and the 4,000 members of the union representing the city's principals, assistant principals, and other supervisory personnel.

The background checks, adopted by the investigations department after the resignation of Schools Chancellor Anthony J. Alvarado, were initially scheduled to begin on Nov. 5 and would apply to all current and future employees of the school board earning more than $27,500 annually.

The implementation of the new procedures was postponed after the school board objected to a requirement that those undergoing the checks sign forms agreeing to hold the city "harmless" from any personal claims for damages resulting from the inquiries, which are to be conducted by the investigations department.

According to a spokesman for the board, the board and the department agreed after a recent meeting to exempt potential breaches of confidentiality from the hold-harmless agreement. Language to that effect has been inserted in a formal agreement between the board and department, the spokesman said.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit last week exempted the 288 members of the city's community school boards from complying with the disclosure requirement at least until Dec. 10,3when it will conduct a hearing on a challenge to the measure by the New York City School Boards Association. The background check does not apply to the community's school-board members.

Also last week, the New York State Supreme Court exempted the 4,000 members of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators from compliance with both the disclosure statement and the background check, pending the outcome of two challenges by the union to the measures.

The state-wide organization has filed for arbitration with the board of education on the grounds that the two measures amount to a change in working conditions and thus violate the union's contract with the board. The organization has also filed for a hearing on the same grounds before the state's Public Employees Relations Board.

A federal district judge in Houston has approved a negotiated school-desegregation settlement that could end 28 years of court supervision of the 190,000-student district.

According to a lawyer for the Houston schools, U.S. District Judge John V. Singleton Jr. has been presented with a final motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Ross v. Houston Independent School District, and has already indicated a willingness to approve it.

The pact approved by Judge Singleton on Nov. 1 calls for the establishment of a seven-member panel to monitor student achievement in the district during the next five years. An unusual provision in the agreement requires the district to take "affirmative steps" toward the goal of having its students score at or above national norms on several standardized tests.

Also incorporated into the pact "were many provisions of previous court orders in the case relating to faculty assignments, attendance boundaries, and magnet schools," said Kelly Frels, a lawyer for the school district.

The New Jersey Board of Education voted this month to take over the complete financial operations of the East Orange School District, which faces an estimated deficit from the 1981-82 and 1982-83 school years of between $5 million and $8 million.

Drue Shropshire Guy, who assumed the district's superinteny in August 1983, said she welcomed the state's intervention and wished it had come sooner. She added that the 12,500-student school district has between $1.75 million and $2 million in outstanding bills.

The board will provide the district with a fiscal monitor to oversee its business offices, which Ms. Guy said are in "fiscal disarray."

A state audit last spring revealed major problems in the district's business functions, she said, including inappropriate purchases and accounting procedures, the misuse of bonds, and outstanding expenses without a line item to cover them.

The district's budget last fiscal year was approximately $39 million, Ms. Guy said. The proposed budget for this fiscal year is $44 million.

The state has intervened in the past to take over financial operations for the Newark and Trenton school districts, Ms. Guy said.

A panel appointed by the superintendent of the Toledo (Ohio) Public Schools recently concluded that white students at one of the city's high schools have been assigned to honors courses and black students to less academically demanding courses without regard to their grades.

Superintendent of Schools Hugh Caumartin "considers this a very, very serious matter and will disci-pline those responsible," said Suzanne Jeager, communications director for the 43,000-student district.

According to Ms. Yeager, Mr. Caumartin learned of the situation at DeVilbiss High School in mid-October when he received a letter from a teacher at the school. The teacher alleged that incoming students were being assigned to courses on the basis of race. The school enrolls about 1,200 students, half of whom are black.

A seven-member panel of district administrators appointed by the superintendent to investigate the matter reported back to him on Nov. 10 that 38 percent of white freshmen and 5 percent of black freshmen were assigned to honors courses this year. In addition, they found that 56 percent of the black freshmen were assigned to the lower-level courses, compared with 12 percent of the white freshman.

Ms. Yeager said district officials plan to eliminate the problem next year by requiring the schools' administrators to assign students to classes by means of computers and not by hand as is the current practice. She added that some students may be assigned to new classes early next year to help improve racial balance in the school.

Peoria, Ill., school officials decided this month to ban three books by the award-winning author Judy Blume from their school libraries because of the books' explicit language and sexual content.

Dennis Gainey, associate superintendent for the Peoria Public Schools, said school officials had received complaints from parents over a period of several years concerning six of Ms. Blume's books. She has written 14 books.

He said a committee, composed of teachers, principals, and a librarian, was formed to review the six books and determine whether they were inappropriate for younger children.

The committee decided that three of the books, "Deenie," "Then Again Maybe I Won't," and "Blubber," were either too sexually explicit or contained strong language, he said.

"The problem is that we have no middle schools," said Mr. Gainey. ''If we had a library just for middle-school students, I don't think we would have this problem."

There are 30 K-8 elementary schools in the Peoria school district and four high schools. Mr. Gainey said he thinks Ms. Blume's books are "excellent," but not appropriate for children in the younger grades. Mr. Gainey also said it was considered impractical to section off one area in each library for older students.

A 17-year-old basketball player in Benton County, Miss., has filed suit in federal court against the director of the state's high-school athletic association and the principal of Blue Mountain High School.

The student charges that the officials have conspired to prevent him from playing on a basketball team this year and have violated his due-process and equal-protection rights under the 14th Amendment.

The athletic association's refusal to allow Robert Mullins to play basketball resulted from a controversy over the boy's legal guardians, according to his lawyer, John B. Farese.

Mr. Mullins's parents are both deceased. According to Mr. Farese, the boy lived with relatives and neighbors for over a year until he was adopted by his brother's wife, Lucille Mullins, this past summer. At that time, she moved the boy from Tippah County, where they had been living, to Benton County.

The athletic association maintains that Ms. Mullins is the boy's second legal guardian; the first, it argues, was a Tippah County couple he stayed with earlier in the year. Association rules prohibit a student with a second legal guardian from playing sports for one year after transferring to the school district where that guardian lives. The boy's attorneys maintain that Ms. Mullins is his first and only legal guardian.

Mr. Mullins, who is black, also charges in his lawsuit that officials conspired to deny him eligibility to play "in part because of his race." He is seeking $150,000 in damages.

Mr. Farese said if the boy cannot play sports this year he will be denied a chance for a college scholarship.

A male high-school senior in Akron, Ohio, has been permitted to wear an earring in school--in violation of the school's rule forbidding students to wear "distracting" apparel such as halter tops and cut-off jeans, according to Brian G. Williams, assistant to the superintdent for the Akron public schools.

The student, Jim VanMeter, wears the earring in memory of his 14-year old brother, Tim, who died last March.

Late last month, the principal of North Senior High School, Fred Gissendaner, ordered that the youth be suspended for three days for insubordination because he refused to heed principal's request that he remove the earring. His parents appealed the suspension to the school board, as they are entitled to do under state law, Mr. Williams said.

Mr.Williams presided over the three-hour hearing and on Nov. 9 ruled that the suspension--of which Mr. VanMeter served a day and a half--was reasonable. But because of the mitigating circumstances, he said, he lifted the rest of the suspension and permitted the youth to wear the earring.

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