District News Roundup
School officials in Bridgewater, Mass., must remove two public-school students from classes held at a Roman Catholic parish facility, leased by the district to accommodate an overflow of elementary students, a federal judge has ordered.
The Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union sued the Bridgewater district on behalf of two students because the facility, formerly used as a school, contains Catholic religious symbols and because the students were regularly greeted by a Catholic priest.
U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolfe issued the preliminary injunction calling for the two students' transfer. The plaintiffs are also seeking the invalidation of the lease between the school district and the church.
The judge wrote that the plaintiffs appear likely to prevail in their claim that the lease violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.
It "appears that the lease involves an impermissible delegation or sharing of Bridgewater's responsibility for the public school curriculum with the Roman Catholic Church, and thus excessively tangles church and state," the judge wrote.
Two Arizona school districts, which together served one of the nation's largest populations of Indian students, have dissolved a long-standing partnership in which they jointly administered a single high school.
For more than 15 years, students from the Tuba City public schools and a local tribal boarding school attended a single high school on the Navajo reservation as a economy measure. But critics, including members of the two local school boards, argued that the system--in which separate administrations oversaw different student bodies in the same building--was confusing and counterproductive.
This year, the schools opened as separate entities within the same building, with Tuba City High School offering conventional morning and evening classes for public-school students, and the newly founded Gray Hills High School serving boarding-school students during a longer school day.
Despite community concerns that the arrangement would duplicate and weaken programs, both schools continue to meet interim accreditation standards, pending an annual review, according to Betty Ojaye, the executive director of the Navajo North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits reservation schools.
Parents and students in Purdy, Mo., are appealing a federal court ruling that the Purdy school board has the right to ban school dances.
The suit is jokingly referred to as the "Footloose" case, after a movie about a teenager who dares to dance in defiance of the local law.
A three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit overturned a federal judge's ruling that the dance ban violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
William Fleischaker, a lawyer for the group that sued to have the nearly century-old ban revoked, said last week that he will ask the full appeals court to consider the case.
Mr. Fleischaker said the appeals panel "ignored in its finding a vast amount of evidence that the school board, in retaining the dance ban, acted with specific intent to promote a religious view."
School officials in Howard County, Md., are considering a new school calendar in which students would attend classes for nine-week blocks, followed by one week off.
The proposal, which district officials say is the first of its kind in the nation, is designed to integrate more time for staff development into the school year, according to a district spokesman.
Parents and administrators have complained that teachers must leave the classroom too often for inservice training and to attend to other duties, the spokesman added.
The plan, which will be presented to the board next month, would extend the school year about three weeks, and would cut into the students' 10-week summer break.
The spokesman said the board will consider whether the change would affect teachers' ability to take college courses during the summer. In addition, she said, some parents have concerns about their child-care arrangements during the one-week breaks..
The board is not expected to vote on the proposal until next year, after public hearings are held throughout the community.
A Birmingham, Ala., teacher who was dismissed after striking a student in the face is entitled to get her job back, the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled.
Elizabeth Talley, a former librarian at the now-defunct Egan Elementary School, was fired, ordered rehired, and later dismissed again in connection with a 1987 incident in which she struck an 8th-grade student who made a gesture at her with his lips.
Ms. Talley told officials that she knew her action violated the school board's policy on corporal punishment.
Overturning a lower-court ruling, however, the Supreme Court backed her contention that "she acted reflexively in re6sponse to the student's gesture and that she was sorry the incident had occurred."
The court upheld an earlier ruling by the state tenure commission that termination of her contract was "unreasonable under the circumstances."
The school board has asked the supreme court for a rehearing on the issue, Birmingham School Superintendent Cleveland Hammonds Jr. said. The ruling "left more questions than it answered" in defining corporal punishment and determining how to respond when a teacher violates the board's policy, he said.
New Mexico state education officials have taken over the financial affairs of the Espanola Public Schools after the district failed to meet state requirements for providing financial information.
"There have been a number of business-management problems which have occurred in the district in the last several years," said Stan Rounds, associate state superintendent for school management. Problems include poor bookkeeping and an inadequately trained financial staff, officials said.
This is the third district in as many years to have its finances taken over by the state education department, Mr. Rounds said. State supervision lasted six to eight months in the other two cases.
The Espanola district, near Santa Fe, has 6,000 students and an annual budget of approximately $28 million, Mr. Rounds said.
The Austin Independent School District's recent decision to cancel $1,500 annual stipends for bilingual teachers has provoked strong opposition from teachers' unions.
The 300-member Austin Federation of Teachers claims in a suit filed in a state district court that the district breached the contracts of its 320 bilingual teachers in eliminating the stipends, which it has used to recruit bilingual teachers since 1985.
The Austin Association of Teachers, an affiliate of the National Education Association, has filed a formal grievance against the district and threatened to sue if the matter is not resolved in negotiations later this month.
School officials said they acted legally last month when budgetary concerns forced them to eliminate the stipends, which would have cost the district $480,000.
District officials also said they did not want to reward bilingual teachers over others. But leaders of the Austin Federation of Teachers have argued that bilingual teachers perform extra work.
Elevated levels of chromium have been found in the urine of more than one-third of children tested at a Jersey City, N.J., school closed in May because of concerns about the toxic metal.
The New Jersey Department of Health found that 35 of the 97 students from Whitney Young Junior High School who were tested in June had chromium levels exceeding 0.3 microgram per liter of urine, the lowest detectable level; 11 of the 68 teachers and other school personnel tested also exceeded that level.
Exposure to chromium at very high levels has been linked with kidney disease and with lung cancer. It also causes skin irritations, ulcers, and the destruction of nose cartilage.
State officials have determined that the school, which is near six vacant lots that contain high amounts of chromium, had high levels of chromium dust in its air-ventilation system. The school, which was cleaned up this summer, is expected to reopen by the end of the month.
Jerry Fagliano, a research scientist in the state's environmental-health division, said scientists do not know that levels of chromium in urine indicate a health threat. He also noted that the test only indicates an individual's exposure to chromium during the days immediately preceding the test, and not long-term exposure.
A high-school senior pleaded guilty to 13 counts each of kidnapping and wanton endangerment last week after being arrested for holding a classroom of Kentucky students hostage at gunpoint for nearly nine hours.
Police said Dustin Pierce, 17, had been charged as a juvenile and was being evaluated by psychiatrists.
Officials described the Sept. 18 incident in McKee, Ky., as an elaborate suicide attempt fashioned after a story by the novelist Stephen King.
Reportedly a straight-A student at the school, the boy took the McKee High School class hostage and demanded that his father be brought to the scene.
Police said they believed at the time that the boy wanted to kill his father and himself. The boy's parents are divorced and he lives with his grandparents, officials said.
Vol. 09, Issue 04