District News Roundup

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The secondary school system of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia is "at risk'' due to rapidly declining enrollments and a deteriorating financial situation, and no plan currently is in place to rescue the schools, a report issued by the archdiocese this month concludes.

The long-range planning report, developed for the archdiocese by the management-consulting firm Coopers & Lybrand, calls for possible school closings, renewed efforts to find funding for the schools, and the eventual decentralization of the now highly centralized system.

The report recommends the closing of six of the archdiocesan high schools--St. James, Archbishop Kennedy, Bishop Kenrick, Little Flower, Northeast Catholic, and West Catholic. It also calls for four other schools--Bishop Conwell, Bishop Egan, St. Maria Goretti, and St. John Neumann--to merge into two coeducational programs.

The archdiocesan secondary schools are currently more than $10 million in debt, officials say, and a number of schools are running at less than half their capacity.

Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua told a news conference this month that "no decision about the future of any school has been made.'' He pledged that such decisions would be made only after consultation with pastors, parents, principals, and others in the community.

The report also calls for the archdiocese to begin phasing in open enrollment in the high schools beginning next fall, and to begin efforts to make each school in the system financially and academically independent.

A federal appellate court has ruled that a California school district erred in unilaterally expelling a student who was later found to be disabled.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said last month that officials in the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District should have provided a special-education hearing for the student before expelling him.

The boy, a 7th grader with a long history of disciplinary and academic problems, had been expelled from school for threatening another student with a starter's pistol.

An independent hearing officer, in a hearing held after the incident, determined that the boy was emotionally disturbed and ordered the district to pay the parents' legal fees and to reinstate the boy. But school officials argued that the boy was not entitled to that hearing because he had not previously been determined to be disabled.

A lower federal court upheld the hearing officer.

Eliot Wigginton, the founder of the Foxfire literary magazine and education program, resigned his teaching post at the University of Georgia in Athens Oct. 6, in the wake of further allegations that he has molested children.

Mr. Wigginton was indicted in Rabun County, Ga., last month on charges that he undressed and fondled a 4th-grade boy during an overnight trip to a Foxfire event.

This month, the prosecution filed a motion to introduce evidence of previous incidents that allegedly took place between 1969 and 1982. These allegations involve eight males between the ages of 14 and 19 who each say that Mr. Wigginton gave them drugs or alcohol and molested them, according to Jay McCollum, the chief assistant district attorney for Rabun County.

Seven of the males were students of Mr. Wigginton at the time and one was a part-time employee of the Foxfire program, Mr. McCollum said.

A hearing to determine whether the additional allegations are admissible as evidence in Mr. Wigginton's trial is scheduled for Oct. 22.

Mr. Wigginton has denied all of the charges, said his lawyer, Bruce Maloy.

Mr. Wigginton, who was suspended by the university when it learned in August that an indictment was forthcoming, said in his resignation letter that he needed to "devote considerable time and effort in responding to the charges that have been brought against me.''

Seven middle school boys have been recommended for expulsion from the Houston Independent School District and a teacher has been charged by police with failure to report child abuse after two alleged sexual assaults by the boys on a 13-year-old female special-education student.

The boys, who are 13 to 15 years old, will be removed from E.O. Smith Middle School for the remainder of the semester if their recommended expulsions are approved. Expulsion for the semester is the most severe punishment the district can impose, said Vernell Jessie, the director of media relations for the district.

The cases of six of the boys have been referred to the Harris County juvenile-probation department, and one boy is being treated as a witness, said John Leggio, a Houston police spokesman.

Police officials said two assaults involving the same girl took place Sept. 29. In the first incident, seven of the boys allegedly held the girl down and molested her in a boys' restroom at the school, Mr. Leggio said.

It is that incident for which a physical-education teacher, Jerald Steven Macklin, is charged with failure to report child abuse.

The charge against Mr. Macklin, who has been with the district since August, is a misdemeanor. He was free last week on a $1,000 bond.

Ms. Jessie said Mr. Macklin has been reassigned to a nonschool setting pending the outcome of the district's investigation, which was expected last week.

In the second incident, Mr. Leggio said, the girl was assaulted again in a school stairwell by two of the same seven boys who allegedly participated in the first attack.

Ms. Jessie said an additional security guard or police officer will patrol the school as a result of the incidents.

An Eau Claire, Wis., principal has resigned and three assistant principals have been reprimanded following their involvement in falsifying the returns in a high school homecoming-queen election.

Superintendent Lee Hansen told a news conference this month that the four administrators altered a number of ballots in the election to deny April Schuldt, a pregnant senior at Memorial High School, the title.

Mr. Hansen said that the administrators changed enough votes to nullify Ms. Schuldt's win, burned some ballots, named the runner-up as the homecoming queen, and misrepresented their actions to students, parents, the media, and the deputy superintendent.

During a closed school board meeting last week, Principal Charles Zielin offered his immediate resignation. In addition, the board suspended Assistant Principal Charlene Gearing for 15 days, extended her probationary contract, and froze her pay for one year at the current level. She, along with the two other assistant principals will receive letters of reprimand.

"They taught the student body at Memorial a terrible lesson in civic responsibility,'' said Mr. Hansen of the four school officials.

"On behalf of the board of education and the total administrative staff, I can only express my deepest regrets and offer my most sincere apology,'' he added.

The superintendent of the Mobile, Ala., schools has been suspended for 90 days while the school board considers whether to fire him from the job he has held just 14 months.

The board suspended Doug Magann after the defeat of a local school property-tax referendum at the polls last month. Mr. Magann had opposed the measure. After its defeat, the state senator who introduced the legislation called for Mr. Magann's resignation for not supporting the action.

The board of the state's largest district voted 3 to 1 with one abstention to suspend the superintendent.

Among the list of charges against Mr. Magann are inappropriate use of funds, insubordination, and general mismanagement of the school system.

Mr. Magann, who has not been formally accused by the board of any wrongdoing, is seeking a retraction of allegedly defamatory statements made by board members, as well as monetary compensation.

The mother of a 10-year-old boy who claims that her son made it to 5th grade in the Santa Ana, Calif., schools without being able to read or write has filed a lawsuit seeking to close down the boy's elementary school.

Lourdes Gutierrez charges in her state lawsuit that teachers of the Glenn Martin Elementary School failed to fulfill their obligation to teach her son, Roberto. In her suit, she asks that the court order the school closed and that the money used to operate it be given to students in the form of education vouchers to pay for private school education.

The suit alleges Roberto's homework was never looked at or graded and that teachers never showed the boy's homework to Ms. Gutierrez as proof of his inability to read and write.

The case was filed in Orange County Superior Court as a class action because Ms. Gutierrez's lawyer believes that other students of the elementary school might also be affected.

District officials said it is highly unlikely that a student who cannot read or write would be promoted to the 5th grade without extensive help and supervision.

Vol. 12, Issue 07

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