District News Roundup

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A federal judge has rejected an attempt by 11 parents in Woodland, Calif., to ban the controversial "Impressions'' reading series from the local school-district curriculum.

In his April 3 ruling, U.S. District Judge William Shubb said the parents' claims that use of the literature-based reading series in schools violates the constitutional prohibition against establishment of religion in publicly funded institutions were not valid. Contrary to the group's claims, he said, the reading series did not promote witchcraft or "neo-Paganism'' over any other religion.

"The Establishment Clause is not violated merely because a particular governmental sponsored activity happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions,'' he said.

The decision was hailed as a "national victory'' by People for the American Way, the constitutional-liberties group that represented the school district.

Lawyers for the American Family Association, the conservative religious group that represented the parents, said they would appeal the ruling.

Two students from Woodland Middle School in East Meadow, N.Y., were killed when a chartered bus returning a school group from a class trip careened off a highway in the Adirondack Mountains 95 miles north of Albany.

The incident occured on April 11 as a Gray Line motor coach was returning the students from a three-day trip to Montreal. According to witnesses, the bus had been tailgating a car at approximately 65 miles per hour on Interstate 87 when it struck the right guide rail, swerved across both lanes of the highway, then crashed through the left guide rail and down a 70-foot embankment.

Killed in the crash were David Jeffrey Levinton, age 12, and Michael Vincent Capozzi, 13. Most of the 25 other students and three teacher chaperoning the group were treated for minor injuries and released the next day.

State police said the accident was caused by speeding and driver inattention. Ticketed for speeding was the bus driver, Dennis D. Ellis, of Brooklyn, N.Y. Mr. Ellis has a history of driving accidents, including three reported accidents and two convictions. If found guilty of speeding, Mr. Ellis faces a one-year suspension of his chauffeur's license.

Essex County investigators are preparing a report that may be presented to a grand jury for possible criminal charges, officials said.

A Fulton County, Ga., superior-court judge has ordered the school board to award a $13-million school-renovation contract to a construction firm that had been rejected amidst charges that it lacked sufficient minority involvement.

Superior Court Judge William Daniel ordered the board to award the contract to Centex-Hamby, one of several local contractors whose bids to renovate the campus of North Atlanta High School had been rejected.

Centex-Hamby, a white-owned firm that had made the lowest bid to renovate the school, filed suit in superior court shortly after being rejected late last month.

A spokesman said the school board had found that Centex had not made a "good-faith effort'' to employ minority subcontractors. Following a closed session, the board threw out the bids and began a second round of contract proposals.

While school\district regulations allow the board to reject all contract bids, the court found that the board violated state law in rejecting qualified bidders, and could not justify doing so in order to meet affirmative-action requirements. The board was also found guilty of violating the state's open-meetings act.

The board has yet to decide whether to appeal the order.

The San Francisco-area chapter of the United Way has formally cut off funding to six local councils of the Boy Scouts of America because of the youth group's ban on homosexuals.

The action, announced April 8, severs a 50-year relationship between the two groups and cuts off an annual flow of about $849,000 from the United Way of the Bay Area to the Scout groups--about 16 percent of the councils' budget, officials said.

In February, the United Way chapter asked the Scout councils to decide within 45 days whether they could work to phase out over five years the national Scout policy of discriminating against homosexual Scouts and Scoutmasters or obtain an exemption for themselves.

Letters from all six councils indicated they could not comply with that request, said John Stafford, a spokesman for the local United Way chapter.

The Scout councils will continue to receive funds raised during the 1991 campaign, for distribution through June 1993, and the Scouts will retain "non-funded member'' status with United Way, according to a statement by the United Way's board chairman, Charles A. Lynch.

Individual United Way donors may continue to earmark funds for the Boy Scouts, Mr. Stafford said. Such gifts raised $326,000 last year for the six councils.

Voters in San Antonio have overwhelmingly rejected a bond issue aimed at providing $211 million for renovation of school buildings.

Opponents had argued that a successful bond vote would have significantly increased property taxes and would not improve student performance. School-district officials said that the funds would have allowed for the construction of more than 500 classrooms and nearly 150 laboratories, replacing aged facilities.

District administrators said the defeat will mean more portable classrooms, inadequate access for handicapped students, and substandard science facilities.

For the first time ever, voters in Wichita, Kan., have recalled a school-board member.

A record turnout of 67,633 voters, 50 percent of the registered voters, resulted in the recall of Darrel Thorp, the vice president of the seven-member board. Only 38 percent of voters cast ballots in last year's regular board election, according to the local registrar's office.

Observers said the recall indicated voters' dissatisfaction with an ongoing battle between the district's controversial outgoing superintendent, Stuart Berger, Mr. Thorp, and Jan Henrie Fry, the board's former president.

According to Jean Schodorf, Ms. Fry's successor on the board, voters were "tired of dwelling on personalities'' and wanted the board to "focus on education.''

School officials are now faced with the task of finding a new board member and district superintendent and beginning a "healing process,'' according to Ms. Schodorf.

Mr. Berger is leaving to become superintendent of the public schools in Baltimore County, Md.

A federal district judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a Bethlehem, Pa., program requiring high-school students to perform 60 unpaid hours of community service in order to graduate.

The suit, filed by two Bethlehem couples and their children, claimed that the program violated the constitutional rights of the students.

According to the lawsuit, the program made "involuntary servants'' of the students and forced them into "symbolic speech'' on behalf of community-service programs. The program also imposed certain values on the students, the suit claimed.

U.S. District Judge Daniel H. Huyett 3rd, however, found the community-service program to be a legitimate educational activity that did not violate the rights of the students, according to Michael Levin, a lawyer for the school district.

Both couples are discussing filing an appeal, according to their lawyer, Eric Strauss.

A national advocacy group has filed a federal lawsuit against the District of Columbia public-school system charging that it has failed to comply with a federal law that requires schools to ensure that homeless children have access to educational services.

Maria Foscarinis, the director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which filed the complaint against the city in U.S. District Court in Washington last week, said the suit marks the first time that a city has been sued under the education provisions of the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987.

City officials estimate 60 percent of the approximately 1,400 homeless children in the city are of school age, she said.

According to Ms. Foscarinis, the city is failing to comply with the law because it does not: coordinate shelter placements with children's educational needs; ensure a homeless child's access to before- and after-school programs; make adequate provisions for transportation to and from school.

The city currently gives homeless children tokens to use on public transportation to and from school only during the first two weeks of their stay in a shelter, she said.

A spokesman for the district said she could not comment on the lawsuit.

Vol. 11, Issue 31

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