District News Briefs

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Voters in Seattle last week overwhelmingly approved continuing an operating levy for the district despite fears among school officials that a state requirement for voter turnout would be difficult to reach.

The levy passed by a 4-to-1 margin, a district spokesman said, indicating that the schools continue to enjoy considerable support in the community despite deep divisions over the future of a "controlled choice" desegregation plan.

The state required that, to be valid, the election needed a turnout equal to 40 percent of the number of voters who participated in last November's general election--when a hotly contested mayor's race and an anti-busing initiative boosted voter turnout. To pass, the measure needed the approval of 60 percent of those voting.

Shortly before the election, the board of education endorsed a proposal to create an African-American Academic Academy as part of a comprehensive plan to improve education for minorities in the district.

District officials were directed to prepare further details on implementing the proposed programs, which include staff training, parent education, new dropout programs, and an expansion of kindergarten and preschool programs, and to explore ways to fund the package's $8-million pricetag, according to the spokesman.

Some local black leaders had threatened to withdraw their support for the levy continuation if the board failed to adopt the plan, although some members later denied that this was an important factor in their decision, according to local media accounts.

The superintendent of Community District 12 in New York City, Wilfredo Abreu, has been indicted on charges of soliciting bribes in the latest action arising from investigations into alleged widespread corruption among the city's community school districts.

Mr. Abreu and the district's business manager are alleged to have solicited bribes of money and office equipment from the Xerox Corporation, according to the indictment.

Following the indictment, Joseph A. Fernandez, chancellor of the New York City schools, ordered the District 12 board to suspend Mr. Abreu from his position pending resolution of the charges.

The ongoing investigations have resulted in almost a dozen indictments against com school-board members and district officials, including another community superintendent who is awaiting trial on charges he aided a theft of school equipment.

Last month, Curtis H. Johnson, former president of Community School Board 9, pleaded guilty to accepting some $18,000 in bribes and kickbacks from district suppliers, and a former elementary-school principal, Matthew Barnwell, was found guilty of possessing crack cocaine. Mr. Barnwell's arrest in November 1988 touched off the current wave of investigations.

Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez of New York City has faulted two Brooklyn school districts for failing to comply with bilingual-education mandates and ordered them to expand their services.

Mr. Fernandez told the presidents of Community School Board 14 in the Williamsburg-Greenpoint area and Board 22 in Sheepshead Bay that he felt "grave concern" over their "history of failure" to follow federal and city board of education policy regarding bilingual programs.

Both districts complied with the chancellor's orders to submit plans for reform by Feb. 2 or risk having their programs taken over by the city.

Meanwhile, a Task Force on Asian American Concerns appointed by the late Richard R. Green, the former chancellor, last month called for stricter enforcement of bilingual-education standards and recommended that the city expand its efforts to recruit Asian school personnel, especially bilingual Asian guidance counselors.

Six white teachers have claimed in a reverse-discrimination suit filed against the San Francisco Unified School District that its hiring practices favor minority teachers over white ones.

The suit, filed last month in state superior court, alleges that the teachers suffered lost earnings and job benefits under the policies and asks the court to block the practices.

Three of the teachers are full-time employees, two are daily substitutes, and one is not employed by the district, a spokesman said.

Lawyers for the district have argued that the suit is more appropriately filed in federal court. A decision by the superior court judge on that motion was pending last week.

The Rochester, N.Y., community is firmly committed to strengthening its public schools and setting high standards for student performance, according to the results of a poll conducted by Louis Harris and Associates.

The findings from the poll of more than 1,500 Rochester residents, taken in June and July 1989, were released Feb. 1 at the first of four ''community forums" sponsored by the Rochester Board of Education and the National Center on Education and the Economy.

The National Center also is conducting a six-month study of the community's expectations for its schools.

Rochester is now in the third year of its nationally recognized school-improvement effort.

The poll found that 90 percent of those surveyed rejected "just going back to the basics" in education; 91 percent want more emphasis on teaching students to read, write, and reason well; 90 percent want more emphasis on mathematics, science, and technology; and 86 percent want schools to "help students figure out what they need to know and how to find it out."

In addition, 84 percent want more emphasis on the skills needed to hold down a job; 83 percent want more emphasis on creative problem-solving skills; and 83 percent want children to learn how to communicate and work with others.

A Fairfax County, Va., teacher who was denied a pay raise after he wrote a satirical letter to the editor of a school newspaper won his raise plus interest when a federal judge ruled late last month that his right to free speech had been violated.

Don Seemuller, a physical-education teacher at Lake Braddock Secondary School, wrote the letter in response to a previous, anonymous letter in the newspaper complaining about sex discrimination in his department.

After Mr. Seemuller's letter was published in January 1987, his principal called the letter "sexist" and gave the teacher a "needs improvement" rating on his evaluation. As a result, Mr. Seemuller lost the salary increase he would have received under the district's merit-pay program.

Mr. Seemuller and the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers filed a federal lawsuit in December 1987, claiming his First Amendment rights had been violated.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan ruled that Seemuller's right to free speech outweighed the right of the school system to regulate employee speech. The jury in the case awarded Mr. Seemuller $3,898 in back pay raises plus interest.

An Oklahoma 5th-grader was confined to a 4-foot-by-5-foot closet for three school days as punishment for fighting, his mother alleges in a suit filed against the Elmore City school district.

Since the incident, which occurred last March, the boy has had difficulty sleeping in a dark room and will not sleep alone, according to Edward Tillery, the mother's lawyer. The mother and son have since left the district.

The suit seeks $100,000 in damages from the district and names the district and the boy's school principal as defendants, Mr. Tillery said. The principal has since left the district as well.

The boy was punished following a scuffle with a classmate, according Mr. Tillery. His client agreed that her son should be disciplined with a three-day in-school suspension in a separate room under a teacher's supervision, Mr. Tillery said.

But instead of putting the boy in a classroom, "they put him in a closet," Mr. Tillery said, without the mother's agreement.

The boy was inside the closet from 8:30 A.M. to about 3 P.M. for three straight days, Mr. Tillery said, and was forced to eat his meals there. He was allowed out only to go to the bathroom, he added.

The case probably will go to trial next month unless a settlement is reached, Mr. Tillery said.

To offer "help early in the life cycle" for poor urban children, the Milwaukee Foundation has launched a $3-million plan to "bring families and services together" in two inner-city neighborhoods.

"What is missing is a structure for coordinating and reconfiguring the ways in which the services are delivered," said Gwen Jackson, chairman of the board of the foundation, which is one of 325 community trusts in the United States and Canada that administers charitable contributions.

The project, "Families and Children in Poverty: a Prevention Initiative," will be targeted at families with children under age 6. It will link such services as prenatal and postnatal care, family planning, employment training, parenting programs, preschool programs, and neighborhood development.

The foundation will coordinate the effort with private and public agencies and other community programs and invite other foundations to participate.

Vol. 09, Issue 21

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