District News Roundup

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New York State's highest court last week struck down a New York City board of education policy requiring financial reporting and other mandatory disclosures from certain school employees because the policy had not been negotiated through collective bargaining.

Several unions filed the challenge to the board's policy, which was adopted in 1984 in the wake of a corruption scandal that forced Schools Chancellor Anthony Alverado from his post.

The policy, which was not allowed to take effect pending the outcome of the challenge, would have required several thousand of the board's top administrators to submit detailed annual financial statements.

Some officials would also have been required to undergo an in-depth background investigation that included consent to verification of credit and tax information, disclosure of former employers' records, health information, disclosure of certain political-party associations, consent to be finger-printed, and an agreement to hold the city harmless for all damages arising out of the investigation.

A lower court had upheld the policy, ruling that it should not be subject to collective bargaining because it was necessary to fulfill "the strong public interest in detecting and deterring corruption."

But the Court of Appeals last week reversed that decision, saying that, while "reasonable people might well disagree about what measures were appropriate to further the goal of eliminating corruption, we cannot discern a public policy that requires that employees, prospectively, be denied any voice in the matter."

Joseph A. Fernandez, chancellor of the New York City public school system, announced last week he would end a mandatory citywide policy of holding back 4th- and 7th-grade students whose achievement is lagging behind that of their peers.

Mr. Fernandez told the board of education that the mandatory "promotional gates" policy has been causing students to drop out. Individual schools will still have the option of holding back students, however.

In place of the 10-year-old policy, Mr. Fernandez proposed offering 3rd-grade students who do not meet the standards for promotion a chance to improve through summer school and after-school help during 4th grade.

Participants in the new program would not be held back. But children who refused to participate could be forced to repeat the 3rd grade, Mr. Fernandez said.

The schools chancellor described the aim of the program as helping students upgrade their performance, rather than stigmatizing them.

Prince George's County, Md., police were posted at Oxon Hill High School last week after several parents refused to send their children to school because of a series of attacks on Filipino students.

Filipino students and parents have described at least two dozen cases, two in the past few weeks, in which students were beaten at the school. They said that the beatings have been occurring for two years, but that fear and cultural norms prevented them from reporting the incidents earlier.

School officials and parents agreed last week to form a task force to address cultural issues at the school, whose enrollment is 11 percent Asian, 72 percent black, and 16 percent white.

An intermediate school in Cleveland will be closed for the rest of the school year so officials can correct conditions that are thought to have caused more than 100 students and teachers to become ill in March.

An outside consultant hired by the district concluded that a combination of poor ventilation, overheating, and chemicals in the sewer drains of Margaret Spellacy Intermediate School probably caused the students and teachers to become ill on March 7 and 8.

But a physician who examined some of the students at a local hospital has told the district he believes that hysteria, rather than exposure to chemicals, caused the students and teachers to feel sick.

An Arkansas teacher who won a sex-discrimination suit against her district must also be awarded damages, a federal appeals court has ruled.

In the fall of 1988, a federal district court in Arkansas ruled that the Watson Chapel School District had discriminated against Leydel Willis in denying her several administrative posts. But the district judge ruled it was "impossible" to calculate damages because of the district's complicated pay schedule.

Lawyers for the district appealed the finding of sex discrimination in that decision. The teacher's lawyer appealed the judge's decision not to award damages.

This month, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit decided in favor of Ms. Willis. In remanding the case to the lower court, the judges upheld the finding of discrimination and ordered the district court to award appropriate damages.

School officials are considering an appeal to the full circuit court or to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the district's lawyer.

An 18-year-old high-school senior killed himself last week when he rode his motorcycle at high speed into the wall of his Fairfax, Va., high school.

Police said Jerry Edward Minnick parked his motorcycle at the end of the track at Hayfield Secondary School, took off his helmet, and then drove about one-quarter of a mile into the wall of the boys' locker room. Police found a suicide note with the helmet.

Mr. Minnick reportedly was upset over personal problems, had quarreled with his adoptive parents, and was living in a foster home at the time. He was the father of a 5-month-old son by a former girlfriend.

Psychologists and social workers were at the school within 30 minutes, said Dolores Bohen, a school-district spokesman, and were forming counseling groups. The counselors would remain at the school as long as needed, she said.

Vol. 09, Issue 33

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