National News Roundup
In order to settle a federal lawsuit, the state of California has agreed to bar schools from using some forms of aversive therapy and other controversial behavior modification techniques with special-education students, in what may be the first such action by a state.
The settlement came in a class-action suit filed against the state and the Nevada Unified School District by disabled students and their parents. The group claimed that students had been tied to chairs, denied food, forced to eat hot sauce, or subjected to other, similarly punitive measures as a means of curbing their inappropriate behaviors.
Under the settlement, approved by a federal judge last month, the state has agreed to promulgate formal rules banning such practices in California schools. It has also pledged to set up a mechanism for investigating complaints of mistreatment of special-education students, said Sidney Wolinsky, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund lawyer who represented the parents.
Both actions were underway before the suit, state officials said.
"No other state has done this," Mr. Wolinsky said, "and all of the sound educational theory in this area is that you deal with the more severely disabled children by various forms of positive behavior reinforcement."
The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that the fact that two school districts had purchased insurance policies did not make them and their employees immune from lawsuits to remedy alleged criminal or negligent acts.
Late last month, the court remanded two lawsuits to lower courts, upholding its recently established precedent that a governmental body waives its immunity to legal challenges when it purchases liability insurance.
In the first case, the parents of a 4-year-old special-education student sued the Missoula school district and an employee who allegedly sodomized and attempted to rape their daughter.
A district judge dismissed the case, ruling that the district and its employees enjoyed sovereign immunity, but the ruling was issued before the Supreme Court established the new precedent.
The second case involved an elementary-school student who suffered brain damage when she was struck in the head by a steel shot putt thrown by a teacher.
The girl's parents sued the district and the teacher, but the case was also dismissed on grounds of immunity.
One of the justices who dissented from the majority argued that while the cases should not have been dismissed, granting districts and employees blanket immunity unless insured denies "Montana citizens the most fundamental right that any citizen possesses ... the right to use their courts to seek redress" from governmental negligence.
An Atlanta foundation has donated $5 million for comprehensive, school- and community-based efforts to reduce the dropout rate in 15 Georgia communities.
The grant, from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, will allow 15 "invited" rural and urban communities to develop family-oriented services for children who are at high risk of dropping out, according to Janet Bittner, the deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Resources.
The two-year grants will allow the communities to offer one-stop services to children and their families, Ms. Bittner said. The communities can receive a maximum of $250,000 the first year, and up to half of that the second year, she said.
Colorado has become the seventh state to join the Re:Learning reform effort jointly sponsored by the Education Commission of the States and the Coalition of Essential Schools.
The effort--which also has enlisted Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island--focuses on redesigning schools and developing an atmosphere at the district and state levels that encourages change.
Each state makes a five-year commitment to the Re:Learning concept, and supports related activities with its own funds.
Vol. 10, Issue 37