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Schools in Hazlehurst, Miss., have been under police protection for nearly a month in the wake of telephone threats against the school superintendent and a string of fires in school and county buildings.

Four fires were set last month at two Hazlehurst schools, and another blaze destroyed the county welfare office, which is also where the school-board chairman works. Fire officials have determined that the fires were intentionally set.

During the same period, George French, the school superintendent, received several telephone threats against his life.

Mr. French said he originally thought the incidents might be related either to "our attempt to break up a drug pipeline" or to the expulsion of a 14-year-old student who shot another student during school.

But arrests made in connection with both the fires and the phone calls have left him and the community of 5,000, located about 40 miles south of Jackson, puzzled about whether the incidents are related or are merely coincidences.

Mr. French said he first began receiving threatening phone calls shortly after the expulsion of the student for the shooting.

But a wiretap led police to a woman who does not appear to be connected to the expelled student. Mr. French said he was surprised at the arrest because the woman was someone he had helped find food and shelter.

Last week, a local police officer was arrested in connection with the fires that closed schools for a day and prompted district officials to ask for police protection.

"They have arrested a local policeman who happened to be on the scene of every fire," Mr. French said. "But he has not confessed, and we were wondering at the school-board meeting just what his motive would be."

Mr. French said the community is "still trying to tie together" the phone calls and the fires with either a drug ring that police officials have been cracking down on or the student shooting.

Until more details are known, Mr. French said, he will ask police to remain at the schools.

Seven black teachers who did not receive bonuses this year under the merit-pay program in Fairfax County, Va., filed suit last week to nullify the program, claiming it discriminates against minorities.

According to the district, 43 percent of the minority teachers who sought the bonuses in the program's first two years earned them, compared with 63 percent of white teachers. About 9 percent of the county's teachers are black.

Glenwood P. Roane, who with another lawyer, John A. Rosenthall, is representing the teachers, said the merit-pay system is flawed because it is influenced by personal relationships.

"It's like a little clique," Mr. Roane said. "It's the buddy-buddy system."

District officials maintained that the program is fair.

The Fort Worth, Tex., public schools have complied with court orders in a 30-year-old desegregation case and are now unitary, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Eldon B. Mahon granted unitary status to the district late last month, but said he would continue to monitor the district for the next three years before dismissing the case.

Some black community leaders denounced the ruling as premature, noting that test scores of black students continue to lag behind those of their white peers.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee has appointed an ecumenical board of directors--including a Protestant pastor--for its four central-city schools.

Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland last month announced the appointment of the 13-member board, which includes a pastor of a Church of God in Christ congregation, the county director of health and human services, a public-school teacher, and business and community leaders. Health reasons forced the pastor of an inner-city Baptist church appointed to the panel to resign, and he has not yet been replaced.

The central-city schools serve 10 parishes in the city of Milwaukee, enrolling approximately 800 students. The schools are heavily subsidized by the archdiocese, whichcovers a much larger region surrounding metropolitan Milwaukee.

One major issue before the new board is consideration of a plan to turn the city schools into a nondenominational system that could attract more financial support from Milwaukee businesses and foundations. A private foundation suggested the idea earlier this year. (See Education Week, March 29, 1989.)

Vol. 09, Issue 07

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