Districts News Roundup

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A Michigan judge has issued a permanent injunction against a Detroit-area school district that bars it from performing random drug testing on athletes and cheerleaders.

A Wayne County circuit-court judge, who in her opinion quoted from the textbook used in government classes at the district's high school, concluded last month that the requirement of a urine sample to participate in athletics and cheerleading was "unreasonable, unconstitutional, and impermissible."

The policy of the Melvindale-Northern Allen Park school district, which is believed to be the first for a Michigan district, was challenged in a lawsuit filed last August by Julie Hess, a 16-year-old Melvindale High cheerleader.

Howard L. Simon, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Ms. Hess, said he hoped the ruling would "send a message to school districts" to provide comprehensive drug education rather than try "a public-relations approach to the problem."

But Gerald Wolf, the district superintendent, said that education alone cannot prevent student drug use, adding that he considered random drug testing "another weapon in a comprehensive program."

The district has not yet decided whether to appeal the injunction, Mr. Wolf said.

The Massachusetts Department of6Education has ordered the Amherst-Pelham regional school district to alter its disciplinary and ability-grouping policies.

A department report, issued in response to a complaint by the regional chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, found that African-American students in the 1,500-student district were twice as likely to be disciplined as were white students. In addition, white students were twice as likely as minority students to be enrolled in advanced classes.

To reduce discrimination in disciplinary actions, the report recommended training staff members in nonconfrontational methods of inquiry and sensitizing them to different cultural responses.

The report also recommended eliminating discriminatory aspects from the district's instructional-grouping policy, such as printing course-selection information in Spanish and Khmer to improve minority parental involvement.

Schools Superintendent Gus Sayer was "grateful" for the report, but finds many of the recommendations unclear.

"Some community members interpret the report as advocating different standards for different cultural groups, he said, "but I anticipate that we will work out a clear interpretation of the recommendations."

A regional director for the state education department said the district must submit a written plan of action by May 15.

Last June, the Boston public schools held back students at a rate of 7.7 percent, which is double the statewide rate and more than two points higher than the 1989 urban-district retention rate, according to a study completed by the Massachusetts Advocacy Center.

Of the students retained, 78 percent were African-American and Latino, with Latinos having the highest retention rates in 8 out of 12 grades, the study indicated.

"African-American and Latino students are held back much earlier in their school careers, [with] about 35 percent arriving in middle school having been [held] back at least once" said Anne Wheelock, a policy analyst for the center. Special-education students also have a high grade-retention rate, Ms. Wheelock said.

The center recommended that the school system establish a goal of reducing the retention rate to at least the statewide level, that the Reading Recovery programs be introduced in all 1st grades and a Chapter 1 alternative program be implemented, and that parents be given the right to override grade-retention decisions.

Larry Faison, a spokesman for the school district, said there had been measurable improvement made in the grade-retention rate and that the district "will continue to concentrate our effort on that." Also, a report by a panel of professionals, educators, business leaders, and parents on tracking and retention is due within the next month, Mr. Faison said.

The Yonkers, N.Y., school district has asked a federal judge to order the city of Yonkers and New York State to restore as much as $17 million in budget cuts they ordered.

Donald M. Batista, the district superintendent, said in a motion filed last month that the cuts would make it "impossible" for the district to comply with a federal-court desegregation order issued in 1986.

In Gov. Mario M. Cuomo's budget for the next school year, the district is to receive $8 million less, on top if a $1.9-million cut this year. The city has also imposed spending limits on the district.

The motion was filed with Judge Leonard B. Sand, who is overseeing the district's desegregation efforts.

A family-court judge in Virginia has dismissed on First Amendment grounds charges against a 16-year-old who allegedly burned a cross on the grounds of Fairfax High School last December.

Fairfax City police charged the minor, whose name was not released, under a Virginia statute that makes cross burning "with intent to intimidate" a felony.

Brian M. McCormack, a lawyer representing the student, who also was suspended, said the act was a political statement protected under the First Amendement. He compared the act to flag burning, citing a Texas statute that protects that act as a form of political expression.

Mr. McCormack also argued that the statute, first enacted in 1952, was too broad and unclear.

Chief Family Court Judge Jane P. Delbridge agreed, and threw out the charge.

Both Mr. McCormack and Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. agreed that the case would not set any precedents.

A federal magistrate in Montana has advised that the alleged beatings by an elementary-school teacher of a half-dozen of his students were not cruel and unusual punishment, but may have violated their constitutional right to due process.

A lawsuit filed in September by the students and their parents maintains that Arthur Hartman, a 5th-grade teacher at Ennis Elementary School in Ennis, violated the pupils' constitutional rights by physically and emotionally abusing them. It further charges that the Madison Valley Consolidated School District No. 52 violated their rights by ignoring Mr. Hartman's alleged acts.

In his recommendation last month to the district court that will decide the case, Magistrate Judge Robert M. Holter said that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment does not apply to disciplinary corporal punishment in public schools.

However, Mr. Holter said, "At some point excessive corporal punishment of a school child may violate the pupil's substantive due-process rights." He said if the plaintiffs' allegations about the abuse were accepted as true, a jury might be able to find a due-process violation.

The ruling clears the way for the case to proceed in federal district court, said Donald E. White, the students' lawyer.

The oldest continuously published student newspaper west of the Mississippi River may publish its last issue at the end of the school year, a victim of $20 million in budget cuts in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Lowell High School's The Lowell has been published since January 1898, according to Peter Hammer, the paper's faculty adviser and the school's journalism teacher.

However, Mr. Hammer is among 1,200 teachers in the district who have received preliminary layoff notices.

Other than Mr. Hammer's salary, the three-times-a-month newspaper costs $15,000, the bulk of it raised through advertising sales, the rest coming from student-activity funds and alumni contributions.

This month, 580 teachers are scheduled to receive final layoff notices.

Vol. 10, Issue 32

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