Districts News Roundup

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Four employees of the custodial department of the Los Angeles Unified School District, including the director and the deputy director, have been charged with stealing at least $500,000 in school supplies.

According to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which announced the charges March 4, the employees operated a "theft ring'' for three years without the knowledge of school officials.

The employees allegedly worked with a supplier of weed-killers and other chemicals. The vendor reportedly shorted orders of supplies to the district, but charged the full amount and split the profit with the employees. District officials said that the scheme also included the removal of a portion of the supplies when full orders were delivered.

Charged on counts of grand theft, embezzlement, and conspiracy were
James Leroy Riley, the district's director of custodial operations, and Melvin Noelani Tokunaga, the deputy director. Two staff members, a gardener and a power-spray operator, were charged with conspiracy and grand theft.

District Attorney Ira Reiner said the investigation was continuing, and that it would include other service operations of the district.

The superintendent of schools in Howard County, Md., last week upheld a high-school principal's decision blocking a proposed survey of student attitudes on sexual behavior.

The survey, which had been prepared for a series of articles for the school's newspaper on teen-age pregnancy and venereal disease, "had nothing to do with the subject matter and invaded students' privacy,'' said William Chesnutt, principal of Atholton High School, who ordered students not to fill it out.

Mr. Chesnutt said that, while the proposed articles were "very topical'' and should be covered by the newspaper, the survey "did not accomplish its purposes.'' He offered to design the survey himself, he added, but the students declined his offer.

The students will try to work out an agreement with the school system before deciding whether to challenge the principal's decision in court, according to Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether a principal in Hazlewood, Mo., violated students' rights when he blocked the publication of articles on teen-age pregnancy and divorce.

Responding to a study that showed a disproportionate minority enrollment in the district's special-education classes, school officials in Denver plan to change the methods used in making such placements.

As part of the overhaul, announced this month at a meeting of the Denver Board of Education, the officials said they would review the files of about 4,000 special-education students to determine whether they have been placed in appropriate programs.

Some minority children may be classified as learning-disabled or mildly retarded for exhibiting behavior that results from their cultural environment, said Cheryl M. Caldwell, chairman of the district's special-education task force and an assistant to Superintendent of Schools James Scamman.

A study released in January found that of the district's 5,000 special-education students, 65 percent were members of minorities. Minority pupils represent 57.5 percent of the total enrollment.

In addition, Ms. Caldwell said, an audit last year by the Colorado Department of Education concluded that the district relied too heavily on results of I.Q. tests in assigning students to special education.

She said the district would look at ways to use new testing methods in making student placements, and would increase its intervention efforts before placing students in special-education classes.

A group of black parents has told the St. Paul school board that its ambitious new plan to make courses in city schools "multicultural and gender-fair'' does not go far enough.

The plan, which school officials are preparing for implementation, would integrate information about women, as well as blacks, Indians, and other minority groups, into every course offered in the district's schools.

But members of the parents' group are demanding mandatory coursework in black history.

"I feel that black history should be a requirement in all the schools,'' said the Rev. James Battle, who spoke on behalf of the group during a March 2 school-board meeting. "It is a part of American history that's been left out, and it's corrupted the whole history.''

The board's plan, which has been pilot-tested in more than 14 St. Paul schools, is the first of its kind in the state, said Linda Garrett, coordinator of multicultural education for the school system.

But Mr. Battle, calling the plan "utopia,'' said such changes would take much longer and would be much more difficult to effect than school officials think.

After meeting with the parents last month, David Bennett, superintendent of schools, said that a black-history course would be offered for the first time this fall as an elective in all city high schools. The change required no school-board action.

Moving to alleviate an acute shortage of child-care facilities, the county executive in Fairfax County, Va., has put forth a plan that would require all new elementary schools built during the next five years to include a day-care room.

The proposal by J. Hamilton Lambert would expand the county's existing day-care program, which operates before and after school at 58 elementary schools and handicapped centers, to 77 schools over the next three years.

In addition to the 19 new facilities, 9 existing day-care sites are scheduled for expansion under the plan. The total of new and expanded sites will cost about $3 million.

County officials said last week that the need for day care was especially acute in this suburban Washington area, where an estimated 75 percent of all students come from families in which both parents work.

The county's school-based program for children in grades K-6 currently serves approximately 2,000 students, and would serve about 3,300 at the end of the three-year expansion. County officials said that, as of last September, 800 students were on a waiting list for the program. They estimated that 2,500 students would use the service if day-care facilities were offered in their schools.

A Montgomery County, Md., private-school principal arrested and charged last month with sexually molesting a 14-year-old boy had been convicted in 1969 of a similar offense, police said last week.

David Harrington, principal of the Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington since 1980 and the area's "Big Brother of the Year'' in 1985, was reported as missing last week by police officials.

"We have found his van, but we don't know where he is,'' a spokesman for the Montgomery County police department said, noting that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been called in on the case.

Mr. Harrington, who has since been fired by the academy, had been released from jail on $10,000 bail.

A police investigation following the principal's arrest revealed that he had been convicted in a 1969 child-abuse case in Connecticut, after which he had been reported missing, and presumed dead, in a boating accident, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Mr. Harrington later reappeared in Florida, the police investigation discovered, with an altered middle name, birth date, and Social Security number. Background checks by both the academy and the Big Brother organization had failed to turn up any record of the conviction.

According to The Washington Post's report, Mr. Harrington met the boy he is accused of molesting through the Big Brother organization, which matches fatherless boys with volunteer role models.

New York City's system of decentralized school governance should be strengthened rather than abandoned, according to a new study by a nonpartisan advocacy group.

The report by the Public Education Association, released this month, recommends that the schools chancellor be divested of his operating authority over the city's 111 high schools and be made a voting member of the central board.

The two-year study, which was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, found that "decentralization has produced a more responsive and ethnically integrated administration in most community districts, an openness not characteristic of the pre-decentralization system, and a school system that on the whole has been relatively quiet politically, permitting an environment more conducive to learning.''

While acknowledging that the system has produced "many disappointments'' in terms of educational influences, the report attributesthat in part to the fact that "in educational support functions, central authorities have been more concerned with developing their own agendas than with facilitating local priorities.''

The 90-year-old advocacy group added its voice, however, to those currently calling for reforms in the procedures used to elect and appoint members of both the community boards and the central board.

Vol. 06, Issue 25

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