District News Roundup

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The U.S. Justice Department has barred the city of Newport News, Va., from holding at-large elections for its school board because, it said, such a procedure would be unfair to black voters.

In a Feb. 16 letter to the city attorney, Justice Department officials said at-large elections have produced a heavily white city council and probably would have the same effect on the school board.

The city's black community, the letter noted, "largely has been unsuccessful'' in getting black candidates elected to the council despite the fact that it "overwhelmingly supported'' them.

The Justice Department letter also criticized the council for not holding public hearings or seeking input from the minority community before deciding that the board should be elected at large, rather than by wards.

School boards in Virginia were appointed until last April, when Gov. L. Douglas Wilder signed legislation allowing each locality to elect its school board if its voters passed a referendum calling for the change.

The Justice Department must first approve all such proposals, however, as a result of previous findings of discrimination against black voters in the state.

A 17-year-old high school senior was gunned down in front of at least a dozen students last week on the campus of his suburban Los Angeles school, and a 15-year-old fellow student has been charged with the murder, officials said.

The fatal shooting of Michael Ensley occurred about 10 A.M. on Feb. 22 during a snack break in a hallway at Reseda High School in the suburban San Fernando Valley northwest of Los Angeles, said Diana Munatones, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The victim was shot in the chest with a .22-caliber handgun and died about 10:30 A.M. at a hospital, she said.

The alleged assailant, Robert Heard, was arrested shortly after the shooting in a doughnut shop near the school, Ms. Munatones said. The sophomore was being held in juvenile hall last week, police said.

Police believe the incident was gang related.

The alleged gunman and Mr. Ensley were members of rival "tagging crews,'' groups that formed years ago to mark property with graffiti, said Lieut. George Rock, the Los Angeles Police Department detective supervising the case.

But over time, he said, the crews' activities have become more violent and more similar to those of street gangs.

While the shooting appeared to be spontaneous, the students' tagging-crew affiliations "played a major role in the motive of the shooting,'' Lieutenant Rock said.

The fatal shooting was the second in a month inside a district high school. In January, one student was killed and another wounded, allegedly by another student, inside the city's Fairfax High School.

Last week's incident prompted the district to expand its plan for limited random sweeps with metal detectors to include all 49 high schools, Ms. Munatones said.

A 15-year-old special-education student was fatally stabbed in a New York City junior high school last week in an argument over a pair of sunglasses, officials said.

Officials identified the victim as Angel Jiminez. The student and his assailant, 15-year-old John Rodriguez, were both emotionally handicapped students attending Junior High School 25 in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

The incident occurred during a break between classes in a hallway full of students and faculty on Feb. 24, officials said. The two students apparently had a longstanding feud that erupted into violence in a dispute over the ownership of the sunglasses.

While unarmed security guards were on duty at the time, the school is not equipped with a metal detector, officials said. Only high schools in the district currently use metal detectors on a regular basis.

Mr. Rodriguez was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon, a four-inch knife.

It was the second fatal schoolhouse stabbing of the school year.

In response to school overcrowding, officials in Fulton County, Ga., have delayed approval of new housing developments and have begun to search for ways to keep residential growth from outstripping school construction.

The Fulton County Commission and the school board agreed last month to form a working group to develop a strategy for coordinating residential growth and the expansion of the school system in north Fulton County, one of the fastest-growing areas in metropolitan Atlanta.

The week before establishing the panel, the county commission cited school overcrowding in postponing for a month action on four petitions for new subdivisions.

In delaying action on the petitions, which would have authorized the construction of about 220 homes, commissioners noted that about 3,000 of the district's students already are housed in portable classrooms.

"I will not support development that puts children in trailer schools,'' one county commissioner, Emma I. Darnell, said. "There is no way those children could be receiving the kind of education they should be receiving.''

Michael Lomax, the commission's chairman, said he hoped the panel will find ways to link improvements in the school system with new residential development.

In the meantime Mr. Lomax has directed the county planning office to find ways to slow residential growth.

Fulton County's population more than tripled, to about 40,000, between 1980 and 1990, officials said.

A federal appeals court has turned down a Midwest City, Okla., man's request that a neighborhood junior high school be made wheelchair-accessible so that his disabled son can attend classes there.

The ruling last month by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit came in response to a lawsuit brought by James Murphy on behalf of his son, Michael, who has muscular dystrophy. Mr. Murphy said he wanted his son to attend the school just yards from his home because other, wheelchair-accessible schools in the district were located in "rougher'' neighborhoods farther away.

District officials said the neighborhood school could not be easily modified because of its design.

In its ruling, a three-judge panel of the appeals court said that federal law does not require the district to make such changes because Michael "is receiving the benefits of the school system, albeit not in the school that most of his friends attend.''

Mr. Murphy said last week that he is considering whether to appeal the decision while his son continues to be schooled at home.

Midwest City voters, in the meantime, have approved a bond issue to finance a renovation of the neighborhood school that would make it accessible to wheelchairs.

Vol. 12, Issue 23, Page 2, 3

Published in Print: March 3, 1993, as District News Roundup
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