District News Roundup

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School officials in Fairfax County, Va., have changed their procedures for running criminal-record checks on substitute teachers after discovering that a convicted killer who had escaped from prison had been working in the school system for almost two months.

Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested John Garris, who had been serving a 45-year sentence for murder and robbery in Baltimore when he escaped last June, in a county middle-school science class this month after a fingerprint check revealed his criminal history.

Mr. Garris had applied for the position under his real name and submitted a college transcript.

Until the incident involving Mr. Garris, qualified substitute teachers were allowed to teach while the Virginia State Police and the F.B.I. completed background checks, which could take as long as 10 weeks. Under the district's new procedures, no one will be allowed to teach until a background check is complete.

The Fairfax County schools employ about 500 substitutes a day.

The Berkeley (Calif.) Unified School District this month effectively barred the Boy Scouts of America from using school facilities for their meetings by adopting a nondiscrimination policy for those who use district buildings or grounds.

The school board considered the resolution in response to parents' disagreement with the Scouts' policy of excluding homosexuals and atheists from their ranks, said Susan Self, a district spokesman.

The Scouts were meeting in four Berkeley schools at the time of the board vote, Ms. Self said.

The policy, adopted on a unanimous vote, is broad, covering discrimination on the basis of religion or sexual orientation as well as diagnosis of AIDS or AIDS-related complex.

Every organization that applies for use of school facilities must declare in writing that it does not discriminate in these or in other unlawful ways.

In a related action, the San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Company and the Levi Strauss Foundation announced to its employees this month that beginning in June it will no longer donate the $40,000 to $80,000 it has given annually to the Boy Scouts, because the youth group's exclusion policies conflict with the clothing maker's nondiscrimination policy, said Mary Gross, a spokesman for Levi Strauss.

Annual giving to the Boy Scouts, usually through matching employee gifts, constituted less than 1 percent of Levi's philanthropic budget, Ms. Gross said.

Classified school workers in Knott County, Ky., can form a local union, but not one affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, under the terms of an agreement that ended an eight-day walkout.

The county school board had gone to court to ask a circuit-court judge to find the 90 or so striking employees in contempt for ignoring an earlier back-to-work order. But the judge instead brought both sides into his chambers to negotiate, and a settlement was reached.

Classified employees may still join the Teamsters--who have been trying to organize workers in the district since 1986--but the school board will recognize only an unaffiliated local bargaining unit, the board's lawyer said.

In addition, the agreement stipulates that the board not retaliate against any employee involved in the strike.

At one point during the strike, only about 40 percent of the district's 3,500 students attended school because so many bus drivers were refusing to make their runs.

Schools Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez of New York City suspended a local school-board president this month following charges that he had improperly used district facilities and workers.

Carmelo Saez, the president of School District 9 in the Bronx, was accused of producing a school-financed fund-raising videotape for the New York Lancers Drum and Bugle Corps, a youth organization he is involved with and at one time directed.

In a letter to Mr. Saez, Mr. Fernandez set a May 30 deadline for Mr. Saez to defend himself in writing against the accusations. At that time, the letter states, the chancellor will consider rescinding the decision or firing Mr. Saez from the board. The letter was the third from the chancellor's office requesting information on the videotape, a spokesman said.

The 30,000-student community district has been plagued by problems of corruption and poor student performance. Several years ago, the entire district board was removed from office following the arrest of a principal who was charged with buying crack cocaine.

As of last week, Mr. Saez, a board veteran of 17 years, had not replied to Mr. Fernandez's office..

A conservative citizens' group opposed to the Falmouth, Mass., school district's condom-distribution policy failed to take control of the school committee during elections last week, and residents of the community voiced their support for the policy in a referendum.

Three of the nine seats on the committee were contested. The ad hoc Committee of Concerned Citizens ran a slate of four candidates, all of whom opposed the condom policy, enacted last November. The policy allows condoms to be distributed to junior- and senior-high-school students.

Two incumbent committee members who supported the policy were re-elected. Only one of the anti-condom candidates won a seat on the committee.

In addition, the board appointed a new member who supports the policy to serve out the unexpired term of a former board member.

The election also featured a nonbinding referendum asking voters if they support the distribution policy. The large turnout of voters responded favorably to the question.

The school committee's chairman, Douglas S. Souza, said it was the district's first one-issue campaign.

"You can't run on religious issues, and you can't campaign as a block,'' Mr. Souza said. "This election shows it doesn't work.''

The number of students dropping out of high school in New York City has sharply declined over recent years, according to data released last week by the New York City Board of Education.

According to the data, 17.2 percent of the 70,510 students who began the 9th grade in the 1987-88 school year had dropped out four years later. That rate is 2 percentage points better than the rate for the previous year's class, or a 10 percent overall improvement, board officials said.

The percentage of those graduating from the city's high schools also improved, up 1.2 percent to 38.9 percent for the class of 1991. Some 16 percent of the students had been discharged to nonpublic schools in the city or to schools outside the city, and some 27 percent were still in school.

School officials attributed the decrease to educators' efforts to pressure students to complete required courses and to increased tracking of truant students.

A Louisiana judge has ruled that the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board cannot cut teachers' work schedules and pay only because it expects a budget deficit.

District Judge Bob Downing ordered the school board to pay 3,900 teachers in the district for two school days the board eliminated earlier this year to save some $900,000 a day.

The judge's ruling was unclear on whether the district must keep schools open May 28, the third day slated for closing. All told, the district expected to save $2.7 million as a result of the closings.

The three-day unpaid closure meant a pay cut of 1.66 percent for the teachers, as well as for more than 3,000 classified workers. The board chose that option rather than cut classroom programs.

The local of the Louisiana Association of Educators sued, saying that, unlike classified workers, teachers contract for their annual pay and could not be penalized for a budget shortfall.

Classified workers are not covered by the decision.

An appeal is expected in the case.

Vol. 11, Issue 36, Pages 2-3

Published in Print: May 27, 1992, as District News Roundup
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