District News Roundup

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In a 2-to-1 decision handed down in late December, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that officials of the Middle Bucks Area Vocational Technical School could not be sued under federal civil-rights laws over the alleged harassment of two female students in a graphics classroom by boys in the class.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of the two girls alleged that during the 1989-90 school year they were harassed and sexually assaulted by several boys in the lavatory and darkroom of the graphics-arts classroom. The suit charged that the teacher frequently lost control of the classroom and that school officials failed to take steps to correct the situation.

The appeals-panel opinion by U.S. Circuit Judge Collins J. Seitz in D.R. v. Middle Bucks Area Vocational Technical School states that compulsory-school-attendance laws do not create a "special custodial relationship" between the school and its students, thus school officials cannot be held responsible for the actions students inflict upon each other.

U.S. Circuit Judge Delores K. Sloviter dissented, stating that school officials should be subject to liability because, "under the allegations here, the state school significantly contributed to the harm by requiring these minor plaintiffs to remain in a chaotic classroom situation."

Two east Texas school districts canceled plans to hold "secret" basketball games at a neutral site because of fear of expected violence because of widespread publicity about the decision.

The secrecy surrounding the games of the boys and girls varsity basketball teams of the Woodville and Corrigan-Camden school districts was prompted by the Dec. 27 shooting of a Woodville high-school student and a 22-year-old at a dance hall in Woodville. Dorman Jackson, the superintendent of schools in Woodville, said school officials from both districts had agreed to schedule the games without spectators at a site outside both districts in mid-January in order to defuse tensions generated by the shooting. Widespread publicity over the games caused the host site to request cancellation of the games.

The games will be rescheduled at the end of the semester, Mr. Jackson said, and plans for an upcoming game at Woodville will continue as scheduled.

Mr. Jackson said that the decision to hold the secret games was intended to protect the students' physical and mental well-being.

"It all got blown out of proportion," he said. "We don't get this kind of recognition for academic achievement."

A federal judge has refused to hear the case of an Orange County, Calif., high-school biology teacher who argued that his employer violated his constitutional rights by preventing him from teaching creationism.

U.S. District Judge David W. Williams found this month that John Peloza, who teaches for the Capistrano Unified School District, has no valid basis for claiming that the district violated his constitutional rights by forcing him to teach evolution, which Mr. Peloza contends is a religious theory of "secular humanism."

In dismissing the suit, Judge Williams wrote that his task was "not to decide whether the teaching of evolution... . is or is not of itself a violation of the Establishment Clause" of the First Amendment but rather whether Mr. Peloza, as an employee of the district, is required to conform to curricular guidelines adopted by the school system.

"Simply put, the issue I must decide is whether Peloza had a constitutional right to conduct himself as a loose cannon in his classroom... and teach theories of his own choosing," the judge wrote. "I conclude that he has not."

The Prince George's (Md.) County Council has formally asked the state legislature to consider legislation that would create "weapons free" zones around schools.

The council voted 8 to 1 this month to create the zones, which it suggests should be similar to existing drug-free school zones. In a drug-free school zone, anyone convicted of possessing or selling illegal drugs on or within 1,000 feet of school grounds is subject to an automatic doubling of the penalty for the crime.

The proposal was forwarded to the state legislature because it would require a change in the state's criminal code.

Prince George's is believed to be the first county in the state to make such a request.

The letter outlining the council's request cited an increase in shooting incidents and knife attacks on students in and around schools. A high-school student was seriously injured recently in an attack involving a screwdriver, said the proposal's sponsor, Councilwoman Sue V. Mills.

"This is preventive legislation," said Ms. Mills, who is optimistic about its passage. "It certainly can add to the cessation of Crime."

The federal Gun-Free School Zones Act, part of the Crime Control Act of 1990, prohibits the possession or discharge of a firearm on or within 1,000 feet of school grounds. The act urges local authorities to post signs warning of the law and its stiff penalties.

Vol. 11, Issue 19, Page 3

Published in Print: January 29, 1992, as District News Roundup
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