State News Roundup

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The number of students charged with assault and with possession of weapons in California schools increased dramatically during the 1988-89 school year, according to statistics released last week by the state education department.

Statewide, weapons charges increased by 21 percent and assaults by 12 percent over the previous school year, according to the report.

The report also states that 14 students were murdered in public schools during the year, twice the number the previous year. That total, however, includes the 6 children who were killed in January 1989 when a gunman fired on a schoolyard at the Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, a department spokesman said.

Over all, crime increased by 5 percent over the previous school year, despite a 43 percent drop in drug-abuse charges and reductions in the rates of theft, robbery, and burglary, according to "School Crime in California," the department's fourth annual report to the legislature on crime in the schools.

Bill Honig, the state's superintendent of public instruction, argued that the statistics indicate that "our schools are safer than the communities that they serve."

But he also called the upward trend in weapons charges "especially alarming." Middle schools, he added, not only had the highest rate of crime per average school, but also showed increases in all categories of weapons possession.

Even before the figures were released, the Los Angeles Times reported that local educators complained that they were misleading because of wide discrepancies in the way individual districts report crimes.

Three Florida teachers have gone to federal court in an effort to prod the state department of health and rehabilitative services to alter its practice of keeping a registry with the names of suspected child abusers.

The class action, brought on behalf of all persons who, like the teachers, have been linked to child abuse through the registry, was filed earlier this month in district court in Tallahassee.

The unnamed teachers contend state officials violated their due-process rights under the U.S. Constitution by listing them without first giving them a fair hearing.

In their suit, they ask the state welfare agency to remove their names from the list and to refrain from adding others until "minimal guarantees of due process" are in place.

The registry categorizes child-abuse cases as "confirmed," "indicated," or "unfounded." The teachers who filed suit were linked to cases that fall in the first two categories.

People listed as "confirmed" abusers are kept on the registry for 50 years and barred from holding any job involving children. Where child abuse is "indicated," the information is kept for seven years and is supposed to remain confidential.

The lawsuit contends that, in practice, however, the information is widely circulated.

Three administrators in the Mesquite, Tex., school district, charged with violating security measures before administering a state minimum-skills test, have agreed to a voluntary one-year suspension of their teaching credentials.

The Texas Education Agency charged the three administrators with breaching test security by opening a vault and looking at the Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills before giving it to students.

The test is administered each February to all public-school students in odd-numbered grades.

The administrators--Peggy Jo Gray, the district's elementary language-arts coordinator; Mary Joy Simms, a reading coordinator; and Iris Elaine Griffin, a secondary-school language-arts and foreign-language teacher--have until this week to submit additional information in their defense, according to Joey Lozano, a t.e.a. spokesman. The commissioner of education must then approve the voluntary suspension of their credentials, he added.

Although there was "some indication that information about the test had been shared with other staff members," said Mr. Lozano, it was unlikely that the validity of the test was compromised.

Vol. 09, Issue 31

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