District News Roundup

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The Chicago Board of Education last week filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against 72 companies that mined, manufactured, or marketed asbestos contained in some of the city's school buildings.

The 596-school system has spent some $6 million to date on asbestos abatement, according to Susan Einstar-Wayne, a lawyer for the board. The lawsuit seeks "an open checkbook" for compensatory and punitive damages that could total in the millions of dollars, she said.

The board is also seeking protection against future lawsuits by individuals who develop asbestos-related diseases from exposure to the substance in schools.

Twelve suburban districts in the Chicago area have also filed a lawsuit against 54 asbestos companies. The lawyer said the districts are trying to consolidate their cases.

An asbestos-abatement task force is now examining the city's schools for friable asbestos, Ms. Einstar-Wayne said. The legislature last session enacted a bill requiring school officials to remove all friable asbestos from their buildings.

The board is also filing a claim for about $90 million in the bankruptcy proceedings against the Johns-Manville firm. The firm was one of the nation's largest asbestos companies.

Responding to pressure from a pro-family group, a South Carolina school district has decided to remove a sex-education textbook used in the 7th-grade curriculum, even though a committee of teachers and education officials recommended that the text be retained.

The board of trustees of Greenwood School District 50 unanimously voted last month to replace the textbook, Finding My Way, after two citizens representing a local group known as the Pro-Family Forum, testified at a board meeting. At that meeting, the group presented a petition in which more than 400 people asked that the textbook, which has been used in the district for five years, be removed.

Karen Tannenbuam, a district spokesman, said that the citizens' group felt that "terms in the book and the glossary offended the moral views of the com-munity."

The group also opposed the book's portrayal of homosexuality as acceptable, Ms. Tannenbaum said. But the chapter on homosexuality was not taught in the class, she added.

Late last year, a committee of teachers and school officials, formed to evaluate the book after the district received complaints from the community forum, recommended that the text be retained.

According to the board's ruling, certain portions of the textbook will be used through the end of the school year. A new textbook has not been selected, but the district remains committed to providing a sex-education course for junior-high students, Ms. Tannenbaum said.

School principals in Montgomery County, Md., will soon be instructed to honor all requests from noncustodial parents for duplicate copies of their children's records, including grades, notices of school activities, and bulletins.

Superintendent of Schools Wilmer S. Cody has announced that he plans to send the instructions to principals in an attempt to promote a more "welcome attitude" and "end resistance" by some administrators to supplying such information, according to Edward Shirley, administrative assistant to the deputy superintendent.

The policy move also represents an attempt to bring schools into compliance with federal and state laws that say that divorced parents are entitled to receive copies of their children's records, Mr. Shirley noted.

"We've had people doing different things; we didn't have everybody following the law," Mr. Shirley said. "Superintendent Cody is clarifying what has always been our position."

Mr. Shirley said that, although it is difficult to estimate the cost to schools of honoring noncustodial parents' requests for information, "the potential is enormous." Thirty percent of the district's students have divorced parents, he said. "It could well end up being a problem."

A "Tolerance Day" program to help students at Madison (Me.) High School broaden their under-standing of human lifestyles has ignited community anger and a court battle.

"We have intolerance on Tolerance Day," said David Solmitz, the teacher who planned the program.

Mr. Solmitz, a teacher for 16 years at Madison, said the idea for Tolerance Day grew out of a class discussion of the drowning last year of a homosexual who was thrown into a Maine river by teen-agers.

The program, which was approved by the faculty and scheduled for Jan. 25, was to feature representatives of a number of minority groups, including a black, a senior citizen, an American Indian, and a homosexual.

A week before the program, however, a group of irate parents and church groups protested the scheduled presence at the event of Dale McCormick, president of Maine's Lesbian-Gay Alliance, and the school board unanimously agreed to cancel it.

Mr. Solmitz then asked state courts to issue a temporary restraining order to allow the assembly to continue, but both the county judge and state's chief justice refused to do so.

Mr. Solmitz said he now plans to take the case to trial on the grounds that First Amendment rights were violated. "As educators, we must not submit to one or a few complaints," Mr. Solmitz said. "We have a responsibility to help young people overcome biases."

Vol. 04, Issue 20

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