Districts News Roundup

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Lawyers for Jersey City have served notice that they will seek to block even a partial takeover of the troubled district by the state.

The move came in response to an assistant education commissioner's ruling last month that the state should take control of the schools' personnel and fiscal operations immediately. The effective date of the partial takeover was Aug. 15.

But in papers filed with state education officials, the lawyers warned that the city will appeal the partial takeover through the courts.

In July, in the opening skirmish of what is expected to be a lengthy legal battle, an administrative law judge recommended that the state be allowed to assume partial control of the "academically bankrupt" school system while hearings on the state's right to assume complete control of the dis6trict continue.

Hearings on the full state takeover attempt are expected to resume Sept. 14.

The Denver Board of Education has given up, at least for now, on its controversy-prone search for a new, permanent superintendent.

Unable to agree on a choice, the board has offered a one-year appointment to a member of the consulting team that assisted in the search.

Richard P. Koeppe, 57, the retired superintendent of the Cherry Creek (Colo.) School District and a former administrator in the Denver Public Schools, will serve from Sept. 1 until Aug. 31, 1989.

"The board could not reach a consensus," said its president, Edward J. Garner. "Rather than have a 5-2 or 4-3 vote for any candidate, we thought it was in the best interest of the district to back off."

The board began its search for a new superintendent last January, when James P. Scammon left the position for a lower-ranking job in the school system.

The search became embroiled in controversy after it was revealed that one of eight finalists, John Dow Jr. of New Haven, Conn., had been fired from his previous job as superintendent in Grand Rapids, Mich. Mr. Dow was dropped from consideration, and several other finalists withdrew.

The board has also been under pressure from minority groups in Denver to name a black or Hispanic superintendent.

The effort to find a candidate with broad-based support will go on, Mr. Garner vowed. "We're going to have to continue some form of process to find a replacement," he said.

High-school students in Purdy, Mo., are planning a dance to celebrate the end of a century-old ban on school-sponsored dances.

Judge Russell Clark of the U.S. District Court in Springfield, Mo., ruled in August that the Purdy school district's regulation prohibiting both school sponsorship of dances and the use of school facilities for dances was an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state. The purpose of the rule, the judge held, was to advance the fundamentalist Christian beliefs of school officials and local church leaders.

The district was ordered to pay legal costs and $1 in symbolic damages to the plaintiffs, a group of 20 students and their parents. District officials could not be reached for comment.

Andrew E. Jenkins, the new superintendent of schools for the District of Columbia, has unveiled an ambitious plan to overhaul the city's school system.

In Mr. Jenkins's blueprint, the role of the district's central administration will be substantially reduced and school principals will be given much broader authority to manage their schools and staffs. The plan calls for the elimination of four regional offices that have been responsible for overseeing school programs and operations.

In addition, Mr. Jenkins proposes to expand the district's bilingual-education programs, create an office of parental involvement, and hire an inspector general.

Many school programs in Berkeley, Calif., are inaccessible to people in wheelchairs, a suit filed on behalf of handicapped students has charged.

The suit asks a federal court to order the Berkeley Unified School District to provide such access to buildings and interior spaces and to pay unspecified damages to the plaintiffs.

They contend that the district's failure to make its facilities accessible violates federal and state laws barring discrimination against the handicapped.

"Parents have fruitlessly tried to negotiate with the school board for almost a decade," said Sidney Wolinsky of the local Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, which filed the suit.

Anton Jungherr, associate superintendent of the district, said school officials were surprised by the legal move because the new superintendent of schools, Andrew Viscovich, had recently met with parents and believed "an understanding had been reached" on a plan of action to improve access.

A Denver school official accepted bribes for awarding federally funded asbestos-removal contracts to local companies, a federal indictment charges.

William Smith 2nd, the district's hazardous-materials manager, is accused of awarding $162,000 in contracts after accepting several expense-paid trips from three men involved in the asbestos-abatement business. The three men are also accused of contributing to Mr. Smith's wife's unsuccessful campaign for the state legislature.

If convicted, Mr. Smith could face up to 30 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. The indictment, handed down last month, was the result of a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and local law-enforcement agencies.

One of the three businessmen is also accused of bribing an employee of a firm that does contract work for the Aurora (Colo.) School District, in order to receive contracts worth more than $440,000. That employee faces no charges, federal investigators say.

The University of Pennsylvania has created a research center to help teachers in Philadelphia draw on black literature for instruction.

The Center for the Study of Black Literature and Culture, the first of its kind in the nation, will hold seminars for 8th- and 11th-grade teachers on methods of teaching Afro-American, African, Caribbean, and Latin American literature, according to the director, Houston A. Baker Jr., the Albert M. Greenfield professor of human relations at the university.

Mr. Baker said that the center--funded by grants from the William Penn and Rockefeller foundations--also will help scholars develop new approaches to teaching black literature.

The New York City school system plans to extend its dropout-prevention program to elementary schools.

The pilot program will begin in the 23 elementary schools that feed into middle and high schools involved in a special dropout-prevention program. Each of the elementary schools will receive $50,000 to help parents and teachers devise a plan to identify and provide counseling to children thought to be at risk of dropping out.

According to the Educational Priorities Panel, a local research group, children in the city's middle schools currently do not receive adequate guidance counseling.

In a study issued last month, the group reported that in the 10 schools it surveyed there were more than 700 students for each counselor--a ratio more than double the state average.

An Arkansas school district must reverse the suspensions of four students caught drinking off school grounds because its policy on drug and alcohol use is unconstitutionally vague, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge George Howard struck down the Beebe School District's policy, which mandated a one-semester suspension for any student using drugs or alcohol "prior to" coming to school or school functions. The judge found that the policy could include behavior outside the school's purview, or actions that occurred days before a school function.

The students were suspended for drinking while driving to a football game. The judge ordered the district to reinstate the students, erase the suspension from their records, and pay each $625 in damages. The district plans to appeal the ruling.

The standardized tests taken by its elementary students are too long and too stressful, the Broward County, Fla., school board has decided.

Board members voted this summer toscale back annual testing from 285 minutes to 90 minutes for 1st and 2nd graders and from 305 minutes to 165 minutes for 3rd to 5th graders. District officials have shortened the widely used Iowa Test of Basic Skills by removing several language and study-skills sections.

Baltimore school officials failed to give middle- and high-school teachers enough advance warning that they were being transferred to elementary schools, the city's teachers' union has charged in a grievance filed against the board of education.

More than 80 teachers were reassigned for the coming year in response to an anticipated surge in elementary enrollments.

The teachers were notified of the reassignments during the summer. Linda Prudente, a union spokesman, described that notification as failing to satisfy their contracts, which stipulate that teachers must know at the end of the school year where they will be working in the fall.

School officials said the projected rise in enrollments in grades 1-5--from 60,446 pupils last year to 62,125 this fall--forced them to act. Secondary enrollments, by contrast, are expected to decline by 18 percent.

Vol. 08, Issue 01

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