District News Roundup
A federal district judge has ordered school officials in Bloomingdale, Mich., to remove a portrait of Jesus from a hallway in Bloomingdale High School.
U.S. District Judge Benjamin F. Gibson ruled that the 2-foot-by-3-foot portrait violates the First Amendment clause prohibiting government establishment of religion.
The decision came in response to a lawsuit filed last October against the school and the school board by Eric Pensinger, a senior at the high school. Mr. Pensinger, an atheist, charged that the portrait implies that the school endorses Christianity and, thus, violates the establishment clause.
Judge Gibson gave the school until March 1 to remove the portrait, which hangs outside the principal's office.
School officials argued that the picture is secular in that it informs students about Jesus as a historical figure. They noted that a portrait of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. hangs in a classroom and has not been challenged.
The school board voted last week to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
A 21-year-old student at a District of Columbia alternative public high school was found shot to death in a doorway of the school last week.
Police said Kenneth W. Jackson, one of nearly 300 students at the Washington-Dix Street Academy, an alternative program for dropouts and potential dropouts in the northeast part of the city, may have been killed during a robbery attempt.
Officials last week said Mr. Jackson, a new student in the school, had attended his first-period class and was not seen again until he was found dead about two hours later.
School officials immediately increased security measures at the school, which already was patrolled regularly by school security guards and city police.
Police had no suspects as of last week.
Officials believe the slaying was the first shooting death of a student in a Washington school. Late last month, a 14-year-old student shot and seriously wounded a school security guard after a gang fight in another high school.
A weekend shooting in late January has spurred several fights and more than a dozen arrests at a Fairfax County, Va., high school this month.
The off-campus argument occurred at a party Jan. 31 at which one 17-year-old was shot in the leg. The next day, the student who allegedly did the shooting appeared at the Annandale High School cafeteria, provoking a fight among 12 students. More than 50 students were sent home that day, and two days later more students took part in a second brawl, school officials said.
Since the first incident, police have arrested 14 juveniles involved in the disputes. Eight students have been suspended for five to 10 days and one student carrying a knife in her purse at school has been recommended for expulsion.
At a special meeting called by Principal Raymond G. Watson, parents, students, and teachers discussed their concerns about the violence, most of which involved black and Hispanic students. The culturally diverse high school in the Washington suburbs is not new to conflict; last fall fights broke out between Hispanic and Korean students.
Mr. Watson said the school would become more active in dispute mediation with students. He also noted that Fairfax County police have assigned an officer to the school full time and have temporarily stepped up patrols around school grounds.
In his first pastoral letter since 1989, the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal James Hickey, this month announced a 12-point plan for helping Roman Catholic schools in the archdiocese fulfill their role of evangelization.
"Too many Catholics do not know their faith and many have grown cold in their relationship with the Lord,'' Cardinal Hickey wrote.
"It is clear that the faith is not just another subject to be included in the curriculum,'' the archbishop continued. "Faith in Jesus Christ and in His church must permeate every activity of the school.''
Cardinal Hickey issued the pastoral letter in part because of his concern over increasing violence in the Washington area and what he sees as the "amoral or immoral'' messages from the mass media that make for a "confusing'' atmosphere for children, said Suzanne Shaffer, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.
The archdiocese includes the District of Columbia and several suburban Maryland counties. Catholic schools in the inner city increasingly are enrolling non-Catholic students whose parents seek a refuge from the troubled public school system.
Among other points, the pastoral letter calls for strengthening the Catholic identity of the schools through more frequent celebration of the sacraments and catechism instruction; broadening "the faith-perspective to the teaching of all subjects''; and strengthening relationships among parishes, Catholic elementary schools, and Catholic high schools.
A federal appeals court has ruled that a lower court must consider granting lawyers' fees to a community group that sued to force an Ohio school board to change a policy that limited speakers at board meetings.
Citizens Against Tax Waste sued the Westerville city school district over a policy that required prospective speakers at board meetings to get prior approval from the board president. The group contended the policy was an "unlawful prior restraint'' on free speech.
After a meeting with the federal judge in the case, the school board revised its policy to allow for the random selection of speakers. The suit was then dismissed, and the judge declined to award lawyers' fees to the community group.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled unanimously on Feb. 3 that the group was a "prevailing party'' in the suit because it gained some of the relief it sought with the lawsuit.
Under federal civil-rights law, a prevailing party is entitled to an award of lawyers' fees, although the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that plaintiffs who gain only minor satisfaction or technical victories are not entitled to the fees.
The appeals-court panel said the trial judge in the Ohio case must consider a fee award for the group based on "the degree of success obtained.''
Vol. 12, Issue 21