District News Roundup

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A federal judge has ruled that the Washington State constitution prohibits student religious groups from meeting at public schools in the state, even though a federal law upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court requires most public schools to treat student prayer groups the same as other clubs.

Ruling in a case filed against the Renton, Wash., school district, U.S. District Judge Walter T. McGovern said that the state constitution's ban on any sectarian influence in the public schools superseded the federal Equal Access Act, the 1984 law that requires federally funded public schools to allow student religious clubs when they also have other student groups not directly related to the school curriculum.

The law was upheld last year by the Supreme Court in its decision in Board of Education of the Westside Community Schools v. Mergens. The Renton case had previously reached the High Court, but was returned to the lower federal courts for consideration in light of the Mergens decision.

Judge McGovern said the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution does not bar the Washington State constitution from limiting the application of the Equal Access Act.

"The Supreme Court has consistently held that state courts may interpret state constitutions to be more protective of individual rights than the federal Constitution," the judge wrote in his opinion. The Equal Access Act is "devoid of any manifestation of intent to require schools to violate statutory or constitutional provisions."

A spokesman for the Christian Legal Society, which is backing the group of former students that challenged the district, said the judge's decision may be appealed.

School officials in Derry, N.H., violated the rights of a disabled boy by insisting that, as part of his special-education program, he take drugs to control his disruptive behavior, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Martin Loughlin ruled on Aug. 1 that Casey Jesson, who has attention-deficit disorder with hyperactivity, is entitled to 71/2 months of compensatory education after he finishes high school or turns 21. He is now 12.

Judge Loughlin also ordered school officials to pay the parents' legal fees.

The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by Casey's parents, who alleged that the drugs, known as Ritalin and Cylert, had made their son act like a "zombie."

The judge said the school officials, while acting with "the patience of Job," had nonetheless behaved "unreasonably" by insisting that the drug be a required part of the child's individualized education program.

Cynthia Satter, a lawyer for the district, said the district has asked the court to rehear the case.

A federal appeals court has ruled that the state of Missouri acted prematurely in assuming the Kansas City desegregation plan was a failure and in urging that some efforts to bring about integration through magnet schools be abandoned.

The state, which has been ordered to pay about 75 percent of the district's desegregation costs, had suggested converting back into traditional schools those magnet schools that had not attracted enough white students.

District officials, however, had argued that traditional schools would be more segregated and the integration of the district through magnet schools should be given more time.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed that the magnet schools should be given more time, and blamed the state, in part, for slowing the progress of desegregation in the city by resisting the district's plans.

The Dade County, Fla., school system is anticipating another influx of refugees from Cuba due to worsening conditions in that country and has developed a detailed plan for dealing with the new students.

The district's emergency plan, as revised this summer, is designed to accommodate as many as 20 percent more foreign-born students, and outlines where additional teachers, books, buses, and classroom space can be found.

If space is lacking, the plan suggests the district make use of movie theaters, religiously affiliated schools, athletic facilities, and hotels as classrooms.

The district plan also includes provisions for dealing with the absenteeism and street demonstrations that might occur in the Miami area should the Castro government fall.

Construction of a new high school in Miami was halted late last month by protesters objecting to the limited involvement of black workers on the project.

Members of the community group People United for Justice are especially angry because the school under construction-Northwestern High School--is being built to serve primarily African-American students, yet none of the subcontractor companies are black-owned and few of the workers are black.

But school officials explained that the black-owned firm that was granted the $1.3-million general contract, R.J. Construction, is not required to hire minority companies as subcontractors.

"The problem is that there are very few black subcontractors or blacks who are part of the workforce at this time," explained Rose Barefield-Cox, executive director of the school board's division of business development and assistance.

When a contract for the remainder of the construction project is awarded, the bidder will have to meet participation goals for blacks, Hispanics, and women, Ms. Barefield-Cox said.

The school board also recently approved changes in its minority-business-development program, sparking yet more controversy when it announced that Asian-Americans would no longer be considered a minority.

A 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requires minority-business set-aside plans to be based on proof of past discrimination, so the school system commissioned a study and set goals on using minority businesses based on those numbers.

While too few Asians have been in the local labor market to qualify for preferential treatment, Ms. Barefield-Cox said, the district will continue to monitor their numbers in the market and propose any necessary changes.

The agency in charge of New York City's $3.6-billion school-construction program has barred 52 companies from bidding on its contracts.

The city's School Construction Authority banned the companies, some of which are owned by prominent developers and political operatives, for various reasons including financial instability and alleged links to organized crime.

The authority weeded out the companies as part of a new policy of screening potential vendors before allowing them to bid on contracts.

The authority was established two years ago to overhaul the district's school-construction procedures.

The Texas Education Agency has named a nationally known expert on school governance as a monitor to oversee the Dallas Independent School District.

The agency named Luvern Cunningham, a professor emeritus of educational administration at Ohio State University, and made him responsible for developing and implementing plans for the district.

Mr. Cunningham, who has performed similar duties in Chicago, St. Louis, and Philadelphia, will attend school-board meetings and work closely with the board and Superintendent Marvin E. Edwards to develop plans to improve education in the district.

The agency this summer allowed the district to keep its full accreditation status despite concern over a wide range of issues including governance, testing, and deficiencies in the curriculum and instructional programs, especially in bilingual education, according to Ruben D. Olivarez, deputy state commissioner for accreditation and school improvement.

"However, the most significant problem and the major concern of the Texas Education Agency is the performance of students," Mr. Olivarez said. Approximately 26,000 students, most of them minority, are being educated on "low-performing campuses," he said.

A federal appeals court has ruled that Nevada's largest school district did not violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by barring advertisements for Planned Parenthood from school newspapers.

The 7-to-4 decision last month by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit cited the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, in which the High Court found that schoolsponsored publications are nonpublic forums and, therefore, subject to editorial control by school officials.

Mark Brandenburg, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada, said that while a final decision had not been made last month, it was "very doubtful" his client would appeal the ruling.

The Planned Parenthood chapter sued the Clark County school district in 1986 when the district decided not to allow the group to continue to advertise in highschool newspapers, which carried ads for

A federal court has rejected the claim of a family that maintains its religious and cultural freedoms are being violated by a Texas school district's rule against long hair for boys.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa last month found that the Pharr-San JuanAlamo Independent School District did not violate the First Amendment rights of 5 year-old Joshua Garcia by demanding he cut his long hair in order to continue to attend pre-kindergarten earlier this year.

Joshua's mother, Sandra Garcia, has refused to cut her son's hair because of what she said was a promise to God that she would not do so if he survived the cancer with which he was stricken as a baby. The vow must stand until doctors decide there is no chance the cancer will recur, according to the Garcias' lawyer, Aaron Pena Jr. (See Education Week, Feb. 20, 1991 .)

Judge Hinojosa remanded the case to a state court, which is considering an appeal of a decision denying a temporary injunction against the district. A decision on that ruling could come soon, Mr. Pena said. The family will likely also appeal the recent federal decision, he added.

Mr. Pena said he is more optimistic about the claim's fate at the state level because of protection offered by the Texas constitution's equal-rights amendment

Three Florida teachers who sued to have their names removed from a state child-abuse registry have won an $85,000 settlement of their lawsuit.

The teachers charged in their suit that the registry unconstitutionally denied them due process. The registry contained complaints recorded from a state toll-free hotline. Complaints were categorized as "confirmed," "indicated," or "unfounded."

Last year, the legislature required due process for people cited in the registry, and this year dropped the "indicated" category. All names in that category, including those of the three teachers, were removed.

The state's settlement with the three teachers was based on the recent legislative changes, which did not grow out of the suit, according to a spokesman for the department of health and rehabilitative services. The department does not admit that the registry was unconstitutional.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld the firing of an elected school superintendent whose financial management created a nearly $l-million deficit in his East Tennessee district. The court unanimously concurred with a Claiborne County jury, which found that Dennis L. Peters had raided the capital improvement budget, benefits trust fund, and federal-program accounts to pay operating expenses and salaries once the system began running a deficit. The county commission later financed the more than $960,000 shortfall with a tax increase.

The court dismissed Mr. Peters's argument that he could not be guilty of misconduct because he had not intended to gain personally. Instead, it ruled that the two-term superintendent's motives did not alter the jury's finding of what it termed Mr. Peters's "knowing and willful" mismanagement.

The Baltimore County, Md., school system is being sued by a recent graduate who charges that his constitutional rights were violated when he was sent home for wearing an antiabortion T-shirt he designed.

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit conservative lobbying group, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Aug. 9, on behalf of Gregory Baus, 18, and his brother Jeffrey, 16.

David Noonan, a lawyer for the organization, said that officials at Woodlawn High School barred Gregory from school twice last May when he refused to change his T-shirt. The school district bars expressions that are considered libelous or obscene.

Mr. Noonan said the school board has agreed to allow Jeffrey to wear the T-shirt when he returns to school this fall, and has said it would not ban the shirt again. The shirt features a line drawing of a fetus with its body in pieces and defines abortion as legal murder.

The Bauses are seeking $30,000 in damages and an injunction that would prohibit the school from banning the T-shirt designed by Gregory.

Former officials of the Window Rock school district on the Navajo reservation in Arizona have been accused of collecting tens of thousands of dollars worth of kickbacks over the last five years from contractors who worked for the school system.

Law-enforcement officers say the pattern of corruption may involve other school districts across the state. A two-year investigation into the district so far has produced 10 plea bargains and one indictment from educators and contractors who prosecutors allege routinely exchanged money for work that was never done.

The Arizona attorney general's office said that for a period of five years beginning in 1983, Window Rock officials ordered unneeded, worthless, or overpriced products from a number of contractors as part of the scheme. In some cases, officials also ordered products that never were delivered.

The prosecutors also allege that some district officials accepted bribes and kickbacks for ignoring the violations.

The state also alleges that district officials spent the money on parties at nightclubs in Phoenix and on prostitutes at a now-defunct legal bordello in Nevada.

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 1

Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as District News Roundup
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