District News Roundup

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Two employees of a New York City agency created to bring an end to graft in the letting of school-construction contracts were arrested late last month in connection with an alleged big-rigging scheme.

Police charge that John Dransfield and Samuel Manoharan, both project directors with the School Construction Authority, accepted some $140,000 in bribes from contractors and planned to accept even more.

Officials said it was the first such scandal for the four-year-old agency, which has an annual budget of some $1 billion.

Acting with the help of two informers in the agency, law-enforcement officials began gathering evidence to show that Mr. Dransfield helped rig bids on eight contracts worth nearly $7.2 million for construction at 16 public schools in Brooklyn and Queens. Authorities also believe he owns a company that he used to launder the money he allegedly received.

Mr. Dransfield was charged with money laundering, bribery, and mail fraud.

Mr. Manoharan was charged with bribery and mail fraud for allegedly accepting money for approving a cost overrun and for approving a faulty electrical job.

Neither man has commented publicly on the charges.

A number of contractors were also charged in the scheme.

Eliot Wigginton, the founder of the Foxfire language-arts program who pleaded guilty to a charge of child molestation last fall, has withdrawn his guilty plea after a conflict arose over where he would serve his one-year sentence.

Mr. Wigginton pleaded guilty to the charge last November after a 4th-grade boy alleged that the nationally known educator and author had undressed him and fondled him during an overnight trip to a Foxfire event in May 1992.

Last month, Mr. Wigginton was moved to a state prison from the Rabun County jail, where he had been serving his sentence, after the state attorney general determined that Georgia law calls for a felon convicted of child molestation to serve his term in a state, rather than a county, facility.

A county judge then ordered that Mr. Wigginton be returned to the county jail until the issue is resolved.

Mr. Wigginton now may either stand trial or enter a new guilty plea, according to Jay McCollum, the chief assistant district attorney in Rabun County.

Bruce Maloy, Mr. Wigginton's lawyer, said that to move the educator to a state facility would violate one of the conditions of the plea bargain.

"I'd like to see the plea agreement that was entered into by Mr. Wigginton and his attorney and approved by the court be carried out,'' Mr. Maloy said.

Thirteen Hispanic students have charged in a lawsuit filed against the Caldwell, Idaho, school district that the district's administrative, hiring, and teaching policies are discriminatory.

The students assert that the district does not provide sufficient English classes for non-English-speaking Hispanic students, said Kelly Miller, a lawyer with Idaho Legal Aid Services who is representing the students.

They also allege that the district's hiring practices discriminate against Hispanic teachers and that its disciplinary policies are racially biased, Ms. Miller said.

The suit claims that, although Hispanic students make up 31 percent of the student body at Caldwell High School, Hispanics accounted for 63 percent of the suspensions during the 1991-92 school year.

The suit also alleges that the dropout rate of Hispanic high school students in the school is as high as 60 percent.

Superintendent Darrell Diede has denied that the district's policies are biased.

A federal appellate court has upheld a lower-court ruling that the District of Columbia can be held liable for failing to protect children in its foster-care system from harm.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the class action four years ago on behalf of children under the supervision of the District of Columbia Department of Human Services as well as abused and neglected children not yet in the foster-care system.

Judge Thomas F. Hogan ruled in 1991 that the city violated local and federal child-abuse and foster-care statutes as well as the children's constitutional rights to due process under the Fifth Amendment.

He said the department showed "dereliction'' of its duty by failing to investigate child-abuse reports in a timely manner, place children at risk of harm in foster care, prevent needless placements, and move children into permanent homes.

The case was the first of its kind to result in a federal court order for systemwide foster-care reform. (See Education Week, May 1, 1991.)

Ruling late last month on the city's appeal, Chief Judge Abner Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said he found sufficient grounds to uphold Judge Hogan's ruling based on D.C. law.

The ruling would have wider implications if it had also addressed the constitutional and federal statutory issues raised in the suit, experts said, but it could still strengthen enforcement of state foster-care statutes.

"The most important bottom line is kids can bring these cases in federal court and they can win,'' said Christopher J. Dunne, a staff lawyer with the A.C.L.U.

Vol. 12, Issue 32

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