District News Roundup

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A report from the staff of Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez of New York City says the city must spend $24 billion on public school construction over the next decade.

The report, released late last month, says the construction is needed to halt the deterioration of buildings and to relieve overcrowding, a severe problem that has been made worse by new immigration and unexpected surges in the city's native population.

Almost half of the city's elementary schools are filled beyond capacity, and seven elementary schools are in such bad shape that they should be demolished, the report says.

The staff members who produced the report based their findings on site visits and maintenance reports from the system's 1,053 school buildings. If approved by the city board of education, the report will be used to develop a five-year construction program, to be carried out between 1995 and 1999.

The report is widely regarded as the opening move in negotiations between Mr. Fernandez and city hall over city appropriations for school construction. In the past, such appropriations generally have amounted to much less than the chancellor's original requests.

Two young, undocumented aliens from Mexico who were arrested in an Omaha high school and deported were allowed last month to return to the United States on "humanitarian parole.''

Gov. Ben Nelson of Nebraska had joined parents and some federal officials in protesting the actions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service involving the two Mexican teenagers, ages 16 and 17.

The parole will allow the youths to remain in the United States while their parents seek legal residency for them.

Agents of the I.N.S. presented the principal of Omaha South High School with warrants for the arrest of the youths and then deported them after they were summoned from class. District officials complained that the arrest of the students on campus would frighten away other illegal alien children, whom the district is required by law to educate.

Duke Austin, a spokesman for the I.N.S., said that the public school "is not a sanctuary from federal statutes'' and that federal officials acted legally in arresting students there. He added, however, that such arrests at schools are extremely unusual.

In response to I.N.S. actions at an El Paso high school, a federal judge last month barred immigration agents in the city from stopping or questioning people not reasonably suspected of violating immigration laws.

A ruling by the West Virginia Supreme Court giving administrators the right to tell teachers when they can plan lessons could lead to teacher layoffs, according to a union official.

Stephen T. Benson, the director of field services for the West Virginia Education Association, said the state supreme court's decision last month could prompt administrators in cash-strapped counties to designate planning time before or after the regular school day.

Since teachers in most counties now prepare lessons while their students receive instruction in art, music, and physical education, the liberal planning rules would help school boards justify the layoff of teachers specializing in those areas, Mr. Benson said.

But William Luff, the state's associate superintendent, said he does not anticipate staff cutbacks as a result of the court ruling.

The West Virginia legislature amended state law in 1987 to give teachers an in-school planning period. But the supreme court ruled that the state does not require that planning take place during the instructional portion of the work day.

Mr. Benson said the teachers' union is planning to help counties avoid layoffs. The union is also lobbying the legislature to consider new legislation that would reinstate a permanent planning period.

An 18-year-old student went on a 20-minute shooting spree last month, leaving two people dead and four injured at Simon's Rock of Bard College, a college for academically talented high-school-age students in Great Barrington, Mass.

According to papers filed in Berkshire Superior Court, Wayne Lo, a sophomore at the school, purchased a semi-automatic rifle on Dec. 14, and that evening shot and injured Theresa Beavers, a security guard, at the main entrance of the campus, and shot and killed Nacunan Saez, a Spanish professor who was driving by the guard house.

Mr. Lo then allegedly walked to the library, where he killed 18-year-old Galen Gibson and wounded another student, and then went to a dormitory where he shot two students in the lobby. Mr. Lo finally stopped at the student union, where he called the police and surrendered.

School officials said that earlier on the day of the shooting they had discovered an empty ammunition box and empty cartridge magazines in Mr. Lo's dormitory room. When questioned by Dean Bernard Rodgers, Mr. Lo said the shells were a Christmas present for his father. Based on Mr. Lo's calm demeanor and his lack of previous infractions, the dean accepted the explanation. Subesquently, the two discussed Mr. Lo's plans for a transfer to another college.

Last week, Mr. Lo was being held without bail at the county jail. He has pleaded not guilty to 13 felony counts, including two counts of murder. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment without parole.

Patrick Daly, a popular New York City principal who gained national attention for his 26-year devotion to a school in a violence-ridden area, was slain last month as he walked through the public-housing project across from his elementary school.

Mr. Daly was shot once in the chest, apparently caught in the crossfire of a drug-related dispute as he searched for a child missing from Public School 15 in Brooklyn, said Donald Singer, the president of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators.

Three teenagers, one age 17 and two age 18, have been charged with murder. The defendants were being held without bail and were slated to be arraigned last week.

Mr. Daly had spent his entire career at the school, first as a teacher, then as an assistant principal, and finally as principal for the last six years, said Mr. Singer, who heads the union of which Mr. Daly was a member.

Mayor David N. Dinkins of New York discussed Mr. Daly's death at length in his State of the City speech last week and said he would recommend the school be named after its slain principal, according to Mr. Singer.

Mr. Singer said his organization would push for a state statute establishing "weapons-free zones'' around schools.

A federal judge has upheld the Philadelphia school district's refusal to allow a gospel choir to practice on school property.

U.S. District Judge Clifford Scott Green ruled last month that the district could ban the Central High School Gospel Choir from using school property without violating the federal Equal Access Act, which allows student-run religious or political groups to use school grounds as long as the group has no affiliation with the school or its faculty.

In its lawsuit, the choir claimed that it was a cultural group and not subject to the act's provisions.

In his opinion, however, Judge Green pointed out that the choir's volunteer director is a secretary at the school, in violation of the act.

Judge Green agreed with the district's decision to offer the group the options of broadening its repertoire to include nonreligious music, ending use of a school staff member as musical director, or moving off campus.

The plaintiffs plan to appeal the ruling.

Vol. 12, Issue 16

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