District News Roundup

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The Massachusetts Department of Education has released a report by five district superintendents calling for the Lynn school district to make management changes to reduce political patronage and strengthen the superintendent's authority.

The report--the first review by the department of a local district--resulted from a consent agreement reached last April between the state agency and a group of parents. The parents had filed a lawsuit after the department found that the Lynn district's special-education program was not in compliance with state regulations.

Under the agreement, the department appointed Richard McKay, a former Lynn assistant superintendent, to monitor the special-education program. At the same time, in part because the district was to begin a search for a new superintendent, the commissioner of education asked the five local superintendents to review the Lynn system's management.

The superintendents concluded that the school committee involved itself too closely in day-to-day affairs at the expense of the superintendent's authority; that the district had too few top-level managers; and that appointments were made on the basis of political patronage, rather than merit.

"If those things are dealt with, we think the potential is there to turn the school system around,'' said Irwin Blumer, superintendent of the Concord Public Schools and chairman of the panel.

A 12-year-old boy pulled a gun from his gym bag and shot and killed another student and himself in a Missouri classroom last week.

The boy fired a shot in the air before shooting his 13-year-old classmate in the stomach and then shooting himself in the head, a police spokesman said. The two were students at De Kalb High School, a combined middle school and high school, in Buchanan County.

The spokesman said the police had not established a motive for the March 2 incident, but added that the boy who did the shooting had been teased by classmates for his stocky appearance. He was described as being a good student who kept to himself.

The boy had talked about bringing a gun to school the previous week, the police reported.

A 15-year-old Duluth, Minn., junior-high-school student was killed late last month after he and a classmate agreed to settle a quarrel over a $2 bet with a fistfight.

Darin J. Cannon died of head injuries on Feb. 27 after a brief exchange of punches at a school-bus stop with a 14-year-old classmate at Morgan Park Junior High School. The pre-arranged bout drew about 20 cheering classmates, some of whom said later that they regarded the fight as a harmless joke when it began.

According to witnesses, the 14-year-old offered to stop the fight after he had punched Mr. Cannon in the face. But when Mr. Cannon refused, he hit him again, and the boy fell, bleeding from his nose and mouth. Two hours later, he was pronounced brain dead at St. Luke's Hospital.

Police took the 14-year-old boy--whose name was not disclosed--into custody at the scene. Charges had not been filed against the boy as of late last week.

Officials at the school said both boys were good students and athletes and had not been involved in fighting before.

In an apparent resolution of a dispute over required swimming classes in an upstate New York junior-high school, school officials last week agreed to give course credits for private swimming lessons to a 12-year-old girl who had refused to attend a swimming class because she is afraid of water.

"To me, it's another victory,'' said Denise Curry, the student's mother.

Earlier this year, officials at Weedsport Central School District had filed charges of educational neglect against Ms. Curry and her husband, Brian, because they had allowed their daughter, Dorinda, to skip swimming classes.

A Cayuga County family-court judge dismissed those charges last month, but he also told the Currys to work out a compromise on the matter with school officials, or face another court appearance, a possible jail term, or even the loss of custody of their daughter, according to Mr. Curry.

Mr. Curry said Weedsport school officials had refused to accept as a medical excuse a letter from the county mental-health department that described their daughter's "deep-rooted fear'' of water.

The matter was temporarily resolved last week when school officials agreed to allow the girl to pass the swimming requirement in her 7th-grade physical-education class--provided that a school official is allowed to monitor one of her private lessons for 15 minutes.

More than half of the 5,700 Montgomery County, Md., school-bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitors, and teachers' aides staged a one-day "sickout'' on Feb. 26 to protest the size of a proposed pay raise.

In addition to inconveniences, the action caused a sharp drop in school attendance, according to school officials. About 70 percent of the county's 58,000 students showed up for school, compared with the average attendance rate of 96 percent.

The Montgomery County Coucil of Supporting Service Employees organized the sickout to protest the school board's plan to give support workers a 3.5 percent raise, while awarding teachers a 9.5 percent raise.

In the past, salaries for teachers and workers have increased at the same rate. But competition for new teachers, officials said, led to the board's decision to seek a larger increase for teachers this year.

The service-workers' union has campaigned for a 9.5 percent raise since September, when salary negotiations began. The district initially proposed a 2 percent raise, then increased it to 3.5 percent the day before the sickout, and is now offering 3.6 percent.

As of last week, a professional mediator was reviewing the district's and the union's proposals, according to William E. Henry, a spokesman for the district.

Service workers are paid an average of $16,000 a year.

Five students were hospitalized after a science-class demonstration ended in an explosion at a Salem, Ill., junior-high school late last month.

The students suffered chemical skin burns and eye injuries in the Feb. 24 accident. Four were released within days of the accident, but one child was still being treated last week in a St. Louis hospital.

Galen Brant, superintendent of Salem School District No. 111, said the accident occurred at the Franklin Park School during an outdoor demonstration that involved mixing sodium and water. The 8th-grade science teacher involved, he said, had successfully performed the same experiment for an earlier class.

"It's not an unusual experiment,'' Mr. Brant said, adding that no legal action had been taken against the school. He declined to discuss specific details of the experiment.

Twelve other students in the class were examined at local hospitals and released.

Officials in upstate New York will test schoolchildren for excessive exposure to arsenic and lead following complaints from parents that a nearby pesticide plant is polluting school grounds.

More than 1,200 children attend an elementary school and a high school located near the plant run by the F.M.C. Corporation in Middleport, N.Y. After tests by the state health department disclosed higher-than-normal concentrations of the two potentially fatal substances on school property, some parents began calls for the schools to be relocated.

Diane Heminway, a local activist and director of the Citizens Organization to Protect the Environment, said the schoolyard shared by the schools was a dangerous area for children to play. "The school would never be allowed to be built there now,'' she said.

But state health officials claim that the arsenic and lead levels on school grounds do not pose "an acute health risk.'' They note, however, that a ditch bordering the two properties does have high levels of the substances and should be fenced in.

Gary L. Brader, superintendent of the Royalton-Hartland Central school district, said urine and blood testing of children will begin by the end of the month on a voluntary basis. He added that the district has no plans to move the schools.

Responding to anticipated state spending cuts and less-than-expected lottery receipts, San Francisco's new superintendent of schools has proposed dismissing nearly 1,000 district employees to balance the system's 1988 budget.

Without the massive layoffs, said Superintendent Ramon Cortines, the district could face an $18 million deficit.

In an interview last week, Mr. Cortines placed much of the blame for the district's fiscal uncertainty on proposed reductions in education programs contained in Gov. George Deukmejian's proposed 1988 budget. (See Education Week, Jan 21, 1987.)

Final authority for ordering the layoffs rests with the city's board of education, which is expected to act on the superintendent's proposal at its meeting this week.

Mr. Cortines has suggested that the board approve the dismissal of roughly 500 teachers, 200 school and central-office administrators, and 300 non-certified employees.

"I believe this would have a devastating effect on the district's instructional program.'' he said. "But it is necessary for me to make the recommendations based on the Governor's budget.''

Judy F. Dellamonica, president of the San Francisco Classroom Teachers Association, criticized Mr. Cortines for trying to balance the district's budget "on the backs of the teachers,'' and said the Governor's proposed budget was "woefully inadequate.''

Two New York City girls who allegedly were sexually assaulted repeatedly over a two-year period by a teachers' aide at their school have filed suit against the city school board, a former principal of the school, and the school's parent-teacher association.

The suit, which seeks an unspecified amount of damages, was filed in state Supreme Court for Kings County on Feb. 23. It charges that Sandra and Ramona Holder, sisters who are now 12 and 15 years old, were sexually molested by the aide "on more than 100 occasions'' between November 1984 and February 1986 before finally telling their mother. The alleged attacks took place during school hours at P.S. 3.

Harry Gadson, the alleged assailant, was arrested in 1986 and indicted on numerous counts of sodomy, rape, assault, and sexual abuse, but disappeared after being released on $2,500 bail.

According to Mark Arisohn, the girls' lawyer, the suit charges the school board, the school's former principal, and the P.T.A. with "gross negligence'' for failing to provide for the girls' safety at the school and for failing to perform an adequate investigation of Mr. Gadson's background. He said the sisters are seeking actual and punitive damages "in an amount to be determined at trial.''

Three separate student attacks on teachers and administrators at a junior-high school in Washington, D.C., in one week has school officials concerned and prompted a petition by teachers calling for tougher discipline.

In one week late last month, students at Hart Junior High School assaulted two teachers and an assistant principal. The District school system averages about three attacks a year in its 184 schools, according to a spokesman.

Principal Kenneth Milner, who was away from the school during the week of the attacks, said he has a "low-key'' style of disciplining students, using suspension "as a last resort.'' Mr. Milner, who became principal in September, attributed the assaults to "an adjustment period.''

About 30 teachers signed a petition to Mr. Milner asking for more stringent discipline. While the principal was away, administrators called students to two emergency assemblies on behavior, and supervisors from the school system's regional office patrolled the halls for three days.

Two students were suspended as a result of the assaults.

Bowing to what she said was community pressure, the top administrator of a Maryland county has reversed an earlier position and will allow the use of police dogs to search for drugs in high schools.

Howard County Executive Elizabeth Bobo had temporarily halted last December the county's plan to bring drug-sniffing dogs into high-school corridors. She said then that she was concerned that such searches might violate the constitutional rights of students.

But according to Eugene Weiss, an administrative assistant to Ms. Bobo, "strong public demand'' convinced the county executive to change her mind last month. Mr. Weiss said the plan to use canine units had the backing of the county parent-teacher association and the Howard County school district.

He also said that Ms.Bobo had learned, in consultations with the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the county's law office, that a canine search-unit on public property is constitutional when the searches are limited to possessions, not people.

The head of a private-school in Florida has pledged to either return senior-year tuition payments or provide private tutoring for students at his school who do not get accepted into college.

"Parents put their children in private school because they want them to get into college,'' said William Hewlett, head of the Sheridan Hills Christian School in Hollywood, Fla. "Since this is what they expect, why don't we say that we will guarantee it?''

All of Sheridan Hills' 15 seniors were accepted in college last year, Mr. Hewlett said. But he added that he was "sticking by his pledge'' in 1987. The guarantee applies to any student who stays at the school for four years but fails to get into college.

Health officials in San Francisco are using a new tool to help make young people more aware of AIDS: "rap'' music.

The city's department of public health invited local students, ages 11 to 18, to enter original compositions in a contest for the best rap song on the dangers of AIDS and the virtues of "safe sex.''

The currently popular style of music features rhyming, spoken lyrics set to a rhythmic beat.

Community "rap-offs'' to select five finalists were held late last month. The top winner, who was to have been named last weekend, will receive $500 and the chance to hear his or her song on radio and television as a public-service announcement.

The application kit, distributed through schools, health clinics, and youth centers, gives students a fact sheet on acquired immune deficiency syndrome and a glossary of AIDS-related terms. All applicants must take a test to show what they know about the deadly disease.

Flo Stroud, deputy director of community public-health programs, said that rap music's popularity makes it an especially good method of warning young people about AIDS. She said many young people do not see the need to take precautions against the disease.

"Teens see themselves as immortal,'' Ms. Stroud said.

An Iowa minister and his wife have been sentenced to 30 days in jail for sending their daughter to an uncertified church school that they operate.

The Rev. Todd Taylor and his wife, Sharon, of Mount Pleasant, were on probation from a 1984 conviction for violating the state's compulsory-education law. In December, they were charged with breaking the terms of their probation by continuing to educate their daughter, Stephanie, 13, at the school.

Under Iowa law, children between the ages of 8 and 16 must attend a school staffed by certified teachers and using a curriculum approved by the state.

The Taylors run the Bluebird Christian Academy, located in the First Assembly of God church where Rev. Taylor is a pastor.

According to the Henry County Attorney's office, the Taylors were scheduled to begin serving their 30-day sentences on Feb. 21, but were charged for a second time with failing to provide certified instruction for their children during the fall semester last year.

The Taylors have been released on their own recognizance pending a trial on the second charge.

Vol. 06, Issue 24

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