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Taking New York City school officials to task for their "stubborn failure" to provide appropriate education for handicapped children, a federal judge has denied a request by the city's schools chancellor to delay action in a long-running court case over the school district's special-education services.

In his ruling earlier this summer, U.S. District Judge Eugene H. Nickerson also threatened substantial fines if school officials did not comply with his orders in the case. And he ordered a magistrate to hold hearings on "the extent to which the city defendants are in contempt."

The lawsuit, Jose P. v. Thomas Sobol, was brought in 1979 by handicapped children, their parents, and advocacy groups in an effort to force the school system to follow laws that call for evaluating handicapped children and providing them with services within 60 days after their referral to school authorities. (See Education Week, Sept. 28, 1988.)

New York City Schools Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez had asked the court for a six-month moratorium on the case to allow school officials time to concentrate on a plan for improving those services.

Reversing its earlier stand on the sub6ject, a federal appeals court has ruled that parents who win special-education disputes with school districts can be awarded lawyers' fees even if their cases do not go to court.

The ruling this summer by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit came in Lani Moore v. District of Columbia. The case involves the interpretation of the Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986. The law mandates the awarding of legal fees to the parents of handicapped children who prevail over school districts in special-education "actions or proceedings."

While four other federal circuit courts have interpreted that law to apply to both court cases and disputes settled through administrative or "due process" hearings, a three-judge panel of the District of Columbia appellate court last year ruled that the law applied only to court cases. (See Education Week, Aug. 2, 1989.)

The case was reheard this spring before a full, 12-judge panel of the court.

This time, the judges wrote in a June 19 ruling, "We conclude that both the text and the legislative history of [the law] evidence Congressional intent to authorize recovery of fees by a parent who prevails in ... administrative proceedings."

A federal district judge in Jacksonville, Fla., has approved a far-reaching desegregation plan for the Duval County schools.

The move clears the way for implementation of the plan, which was developed after five months of discussions between school officials and local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Urban League.

During the negotiations, several black members of the team developing the plan received threats against their lives. (See Education Week, June 13, 1990.)

Under the plan, which was approved by the county board in June, the district will eliminate the mandatory-busing policy that has existed for more than 20 years under a court desegregation order.

The district also plans to reorganize the grade structure, open seven new schools, and establish a system of magnet schools countywide.

Delegates to the annual meeting of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers have called for legislation to limit television advertising in schools.

The resolution, adopted in June at the National pta's convention in Indianapolis, calls for regulations or legislation that would prohibit public schools from contracting with businesses that require students to view advertising as a condition for a donation of money or equipment.

The resolution is aimed at such efforts as Whittle Communications' Channel One commercially sponsored news program for high schools. Schools that subscribe to the program receive a loan of video equipment.

Several states, including New York and California, have effectively kept the Whittle program out of public schools through regulations. (See Education Week, Feb. 21, 1990.)

The Shenandoah County, Va., school board has agreed to prohibit Bible classes from being held held in a bus parked on school grounds.

The move settles a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The a.c.l.u., acting on behalf of an unnamed student, had asserted in a suit filed in federal district court that the board was violating the U.S. Constitution by permitting the private Weekday Religious Education program to offer Bible classes outside a Woodstock, Va., elementary school. (See Education Week, May 23, 1990.)

Under the settlement, the board agreed to prohibit the buses from parking on school grounds while children are receiving religious instruction. It also agreed to forbid teachers and officials of the religious program to enter classrooms while children are present, and to prohibit school employees from encouraging students to participate in the program.

The Los Angeles Board of Education has voted to purchase the Ambassador Hotel to build a high school, despite threats of a lawsuit by Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump heads a development group that currently owns the 17.6-acre property in the Wilshire area of Los Angeles and plans to build a hotel and business complex.

The school board voted in June to use its powers of eminent domain to confiscate the site to build the school. (See Education Week, May 30, 1990.)

In July, the board allocated $62 million to set up the financing plan for the move, which is expected to take up to a year to complete.

Lawyers for Trump Wilshire Associates, the development group, say they plan to go to court to block the district's efforts.

Prosecutors in Connecticut have agreed not to prosecute a parochial-school teacher accused of failing to report a case of suspected child abuse under a little-used state law.

The agreement was offered only on the condition that the suburban-Hartford teacher attend a day-long training class on child-abuse detection and present a report on the session to other teachers at her school, according to a spokesman for the state Superior Court.

Diane Pociadlo, who has taught at St. Stanislaus School in Meriden for more than 10 years, was charged in May with violating a state statute that requires teachers and other professionals to report suspected child abuse. (See Education Week, May 23, 1990.)

The violation is a misdemeanor offense with a penalty of up to $500.

Police alleged that one of Ms. Pociadlo's students regularly came to school covered with bruises. School-system officials said the teacher could not have known about the alleged abuse.

Teachers in Chelsea, Mass., have negotiated their first contract with Boston University since that institution took over management of the city's school system last year.

The three-year agreement, which was ratified in June, includes a plan for merit pay beginning in September 1991, creates lead-teacher positions, raises teachers' salaries an average of 26 percent by the 1991-92 school year, and calls for the introduction of school-based management at individual schools.

The school system's 300 teachers had been working under temporary contract extensions since June 1988, when their previous contract expired. Teachers staged a job action this spring, refusing to perform extra duties before or after school, to protest stalled contract talks. (See Education Week, April 18, 1990.)

Union members voted 124 to 96 to accept the new pact. But the union is continuing with a lawsuit in Suffolk County Superior Court that challenges the university's management of the school system as unconstitutional.

The Purdy, Mo., school board has voted unanimously to reinstate a ban on high-school dances in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in April not to review an appellate ruling that the ban was not motivated by the six board members' religious convictions. (See Education Week, April 25, 1990.)

A federal district judge had issued a restraining order against the policy in 1988, but rescinded his order last month, paving the way for the school board's vote.

The Dade County, Fla., school board has entered into a five-year contract with a private Minnesota company to jointly run a new elementary school.

The agreement between the board and Education Alternatives Inc., approved in June, calls for the firm to raise $2.1 million to supplement the school's allocation from the district. (See Education Week, June 6, 1990.)

Under the terms of the partnership, the first of its kind between a school district and a business, the firm will receive a $275,000 consulting fee for the first three years of the contract. The money will come out of the supplemental funds the company raises, not from public-school dollars.

For the last two years of the contract, the firm has estimated its fee at $200,000. During that time, the company's involvement with the school is expected to taper off as the county prepares to run the school on its own.

Vol. 09, Issue 40

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