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The driver of a truck that caused a catastrophic 1989 school-bus crash in Alton, Tex., has been cleared of criminal charges in the deaths of 21 students.

A jury found Ruben Perez not guilty this month on 21 counts of criminally negligent homicide--one count for each of the high school students killed when the soft-drink truck he was driving ran a stop sign and collided with the bus, causing it to veer off the road and plunge into a flooded gravel pit.

Many of the victims of the crash were unable to escape the bus as it filled with water.

Prosecutors had based their charges on the fact that Mr. Perez had run a stop sign and failed to yield the right of way.

The defense argued successfully, however, that Mr. Perez was not to blame because the brakes on the tractor-trailor truck had failed due to poor maintenance by the truck's owner, the Valley Coca-Cola Bottling Company.

The bottling company has already paid more than $130 million in settlements to the families of the 21 students who died and the 60 who survived.

Another $23 million in settlements has been paid by the Blue Bird Body Company, which designed and built the school bus.

Partially as a response to the Alton accident, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last year issued new standards for school buses requiring larger vehicles to have more exits. (See Education Week, Nov. 11, 1992.)

A federal judge ruled last week that officials of City College of New York violated a controversial professor's constitutional right to free speech by demoting him after he made a racially charged speech.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Conboy said college officials violated the First Amendment right of Leonard Jeffries Jr. last year when they removed him as chairman of City College's black-studies department.

The demotion came after Mr. Jeffries, a prominent proponent of Afro-centric education, made a July 1991 speech in which he charged that Jews had controlled early America's slave trade and that Jews and the Mafia conspired to make movies denigrating black people. (See Education Week, Sept. 4, 1991.)

Mr. Jeffries also had harsh words in the speech for Diane S. Ravitch, a former U.S. assistant secretary of education, whom he called an "ultra-sophisticated, debonair racist.''

Mr. Jeffries had served as a consultant to New York State in revising its multicultural curriculum for schools.

Officials of City University of New York, the college's parent institution, said last week they were reviewing the verdict. As of midweek, a jury was still considering what damages to award Mr. Jeffries. He is seeking $25 million and reinstatement as department chairman.

Superintendent Franklin L. Smith of the District of Columbia schools announced last week that he plans to lay off nearly 600 school employees next month.

Although Mr. Smith has not indicated how school personnel will be targeted under the reduction-in-force plan, pre-kindergarten and elementary school teachers, as well as teachers of mathematics, science, special education, and foreign languages, will be exempted, said Cheryl Johnson, a spokeswoman for the superintendent.

About 300 school positions already have been eliminated this year under a cost-cutting plan devised in January by the superintendent, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, and other city leaders. (See Education Week, Feb. 3, 1993.) Most of those positions were held by teachers, who were induced into early retirement by a special benefits package.

The reduction in personnel--which is expected to be capped at 883 positions--has been matched by other budget cuts, including a proposal to close or consolidate 10 of the district's schools.

Vol. 12, Issue 34

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