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The Iowa state board of education has reversed a controversial decision by the Des Moines school board that would have prevented white students from leaving the district under the state's open-enrollment law.

The state board this month upheld the finding of an administrative-law judge that the Des Moines board's refusal in November to allow 122 white students to transfer to other districts violated the law. At the same time, the local board approved transfers for six students from minority groups. (See Education Week, Dec. 16, 1992.)

The Des Moines board's decision drew the ire of Gov. Terry E. Branstad, who called it a form of reverse discrimination. But the board said the loss of the white students would have hindered the district's efforts to desegregate its schools.

The law is also creating "white flight'' in other urban districts, such as Waterloo, that have minority enrollments, school officials said.

Rural officials also say the law is forcing mergers and shared-services agreements among small school districts.

Of the 122 white Des Moines students who had sought transfers, only 72 appealed the November ruling. The other 50 either moved or plan to enroll in private schools, Mark A. Horstmeyer, a district spokesman, said.

He said last week that the district probably would not appeal the state board's decision to a state court, but will amend its open-enrollment policy in some way.

The parents of a blind 4th grader in Kalkaska, Mich., have filed a state lawsuit to force the district, which closed 10 weeks early due to budget shortfalls, to continue providing special-education services to their son and other special-education students.

The lawsuit, filed this month on behalf of Robbie Burghardt, is the first legal challenge to the school board's decision to shut down the system March 24.

The board made its decision after voters in the 2,300-student district rejected a property-tax increase. (See Education Week, March 31, 1993.)

In the suit, Robbie's parents charge that the decision violates their son's right to special education under the state's special-education law and the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The 4th grader is one of some 170 students with disabilities who are "mainstreamed'' into regular classes in the district. More severely disabled students, who are bused to facilities outside the district, continue to receive services, school officials said.

The suit--which names the school board, district, and state--suggests that the schools be reopened for special-education students or that services be provided through neighboring districts.

The Chaska, Minn., school district has agreed to pay $40,000 to a former high school student to settle a complaint stemming from sexual harassment she suffered while in school.

The settlement is believed to be the largest nationwide to date in a student-to-student sexual harassment case.

Jill Olson, now age 21, filed a complaint with the state human-rights department during her senior year when she discovered that her name was on a list circulating at Chaska High School that described her as sexually desirable and contained lewd and sexually graphic descriptions.

School officials denied a request by Ms. Olson and her mother that the incident be used as a lesson on sexual harassment. Instead, they offered her counseling.

The department ruled this month that Chaska High and School District 112 did not take timely and appropriate action on student-to-student sexual-harassment issues.

Under a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision, school districts can be held liable for sexual harassment in schools. (See Education Week, Feb. 3, 1993.)

According to David Beaulieu, the state commissioner of human rights, Ms. Olson's case has brought student-to-student sexual harassment to the forefront in Minnesota. He called for improved policies and training in the schools.

Since the complaint was filed, the Chaska school district has revamped its policies on sexual harassment.

More than 85 percent of Indianapolis parents have picked the public schools they want their children to attend in the fall under the district's new "select schools'' controlled-choice assignment plan.

The plan, which drew criticism when it was announced last year, creates three racially balanced regions and allows students wide latitude in selecting schools. (See Education Week, March 11, 1992.)

The assignment system was approved in February by the federal district judge who oversees the district's desegregation case.

Of the families who made selections, more than 60 percent kept the "quick pick'' option generated by the district's computer, said Mark J. Goff, a spokesman for the district. In many cases, that means students will go to the schools nearest their homes, but some will attend magnet or other special-option schools they had chosen before the select-schools program began.

More than one-third of the parents got their first choice of schools. More than 95 percent received either their first, second, third, or "quick pick'' choice, exceeding the district's goal of having 80 percent of participating families meet one of those criteria.

The district assigned the 6,644 students whose families did not make a selection, usually to the school nearest their homes, Mr. Goff said.

Vol. 12, Issue 30

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