District News Roundup

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A federal judge has ruled that public schools in a suburban Chicago district are not violating the U.S. Constitution by allowing the Boy Scouts to use its facilities for meetings even though Scout groups exclude atheists as members.

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel held this month that the policy of the Wheeling Township Elementary School District 21 allowing Scout groups access to facilities "in no way supports the conclusion that the district's aim is to promote religion.''

Rob Sherman, an atheist activist, brought the suit last fall after the Cub Scouts rejected his son, Ricky, a 5th grader at an Arlington Heights school, when he refused to sign the Scout pledge to carry out one's "duty to God.''

Mr. Sherman also protested the district's policy of allowing the display of Scout symbols in schools and the recruitment of schoolchildren into the organization.

Judge Zagel noted that the district lets religious groups hold weekend meetings on school property but has little involvement with any of the meetings.

The district's attitude toward the Scouts "can only be fairly described as neutral,'' Judge Zagal wrote.

Scouting has come under fire in a number of school districts nationwide for its policy of excluding atheists and homosexuals from membership.

Mr. Sherman, the national spokesman for American Atheists, said he will appeal the decision.

The Milwaukee School Board has voted to abolish the dual leadership of the district.

Many of the district's business operations have been overseen by a "secretary-business manager,'' but the board voted 6 to 2 this month to eliminate that position and transfer the responsibilities to Superintendent Howard L. Fuller.

The move effectively makes Mr. Fuller the chief executive officer of the school system, with responsibility over all of its business operations.

The Milwaukee board also voted to create a department of governance affairs, which will bypass the superintendent's office and report directly to the board with independent audits of the district's finances and program performance.

The reorganization is expected to eliminate five positions and create eight others, with an additional yearly cost to the district of $190,000 in salaries and benefits.

A South Carolina woman has filed a class action in U.S. District Court against The Citadel, alleging that she was denied admission to the state-supported military college because of her gender.

Shannon Faulkner was accepted to The Citadel after her high school deleted mention of her gender from her transcript; the institution reversed its decision after officials discovered their error.

Her lawyer, Suzanne E. Coe, maintains that The Citadel's action was unconstitutional because the school is publicly supported.

Dawes Cook, the Charleston school's lawyer, said he will argue that the state's policy in support of the institution is not unconstitutional.

A similar suit is pending against the Virginia Military Institute. A federal judge there has ruled that taxpayer-supported, single-sex institutions of higher learning are constitutional if similar learning opportunities are offered to both sexes.

A computer firm that is equally owned by black and Hispanic partners is not a minority-owned business, school officials in Dade County, Fla., have decided.

The owners of Data Industries were informed last month that their company did not qualify as a minority-owned firm under the district rule, which requires that one minority group own at least 51 percent of a company.

Firms certified as minority-owned have an edge in winning contracts from the district.

The company has challenged the decision, but district officials have shown no desire to back down.

"That rule is not going to change,'' said Henry C. Fraind, a spokesman for the district. "We want a clear-cut owner.''

Companies that are 50-50 partnerships, Mr. Fraind asserted, find it "too easy'' to manipulate the district's affirmative-action bidding policy. If such partnerships were allowed to qualify, he said, firms could simply come into the bidding process with two minority partners and then replace one with a white partner once they got a contract, he said.

The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that the Henry County school board did not violate state law by dismissing a veteran teacher and retaining several probationary employees during a 1987 reduction in force.

The board, which released seven physical-education teachers due to decreasing enrollment, had amended its dismissal policy so that teachers in such hard-to-fill jobs as athletic coach or club sponsor could be retained regardless of seniority.

But Linda Underwood, a tenured teacher who was fired during the reduction, claimed that the board's policy conflicted with a state law giving contracted teachers priority over probationary teachers.

The supreme court upheld a Henry County Circuit Court's 1991 decision that school boards have the authority to change their dismissal procedures and to release experienced teachers because of dwindling enrollment.

The Boston Teachers Union last week canceled a vote on whether to hold a one-day walkout on March 11 after the city's school committee agreed to release $2.8 million in payments to the union's health and welfare fund.

The school committee had withheld payments to the fund since October, asking for a better accounting of how the money was invested. The fund pays for dental, vision, mental-health, and other services for union members.

Lawyers for the school committee were concerned about the use of fund money to set up two private corporations. In exchange for a letter from union officials guaranteeing no fiscal mismanagement, the committee agreed to make the payments.

Edward J. Doherty, the union president, called the fund issue a "red herring'' used to hold up negotiations.

The dispute over the release of the money to the fund had been a major sticking point in the ongoing labor dispute in Boston, where teachers have been working the entire school year under an expired contract.

In addition to releasing the money, the school committee agreed to allow a firm called Conflict Management Inc. to mediate the contract negotiations.

The Oklahoma City Board of Education has filed suit against its former superintendent seeking the return of more than $172,000 in payments he received from the district.

The board last week filed its lawsuit in state district court charging that Arthur Steller, who left his job in November, is not entitled to the money.

The action follows release of a state auditor's report charging that Mr. Steller improperly received more than $228,000 in payments for bonuses and benefits. Mr. Steller has returned some $56,000 already, but has charged that the state report is full of errors.

Last month, Mr. Steller resigned the superintendency of the Cobb County, Ga., schools after his temporary contract there was not renewed.

Vol. 12, Issue 25

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