District News Roundup

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The school board in Fort Smith, Ark., must pay lawyers' fees to parents who took the district to court in an effort to enforce a ruling in a special-education dispute, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The parents and the district had forged a settlement in 1992 in a dispute over the closing of a special-education school. Under the settlement, school officials agreed to hold individualized education conferences for all the children affected by the closing.

When problems arose over the the timing and the content of the conferences, the parents returned to court in an effort to enforce the court order. The parents also asked that the district be directed to pay their legal fees.

A federal district court in April sided with the parents over the matter of the conferences, but it declined to award them the fees. The court said that the district had acted in good faith in scheduling the conferences and that the parents had failed to first try to settle the issue out of court.

However, in June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit said the lower court had been "unreasonable'' in faulting the parents for failing to seek an out-of-court settlement when neither side had tried to work out an agreement.

The court also turned aside the district's contention that a motion to enforce a court order was not the type of proceeding for which lawyers' fees are recoverable. The judges said federal special-education law requires school districts to pay such fees in any legal proceeding involving special education in which parents prevail.

A federal judge has given the DeKalb County, Ga., school board permission to sell $54 million in bonds to build three schools, despite objections by the plaintiffs in the district's longstanding desegregation case.

The plaintiffs had sought to have the bond sale delayed because they did not approve of the proposed sites for the new schools.

The original plaintiffs wanted the schools built where they would improve racial integration, while the intervening plaintiffs wanted the schools built where they would do more to relieve overcrowding in schools with predominantly black enrollments.

U.S. District Judge William C. O'Kelley last month declined to delay the bond sale.

Although there may be better sites, the judge said, construction of schools at the locations proposed by the district will nonetheless help alleviate overcrowding in predominantly black schools. Moreover, he added, further delaying the release of the bonds would only worsen school overcrowding.

Some observers interpreted Judge Kelley's decision as suggesting that he may soon be willing to relinquish court supervision of the school system. The U.S. Supreme Court held last year that the district can achieve integration incrementally and should not be asked to remedy school segregation caused by shifts in housing patterns beyond their control. (See Education Week, April 8, 1992.)

A high-ranking school psychologist in New York City was charged last month with sexually abusing two teenage boys.

Pedro Cumba, a deputy director of clinical services for special education for the city's high schools, was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sodomy and endangering the welfare of a child. He was released on $10,000 bail.

Between 1991 and the summer of 1992, Mr. Cumba allegedly paid the two high school students $20 to $40 for sex several times a week in his apartment.

Frank Sobrino, a spokesman for the district, emphasized that Mr. Cumba did not have direct contact with students in his official capacity. Rather, he coordinated the appointments between students and various therapists and psychologists.

Mr. Cumba did not meet the teenagers involved in the criminal charges through his job.

Since his arrest, Mr. Cumba has been reassigned to a purely administrative position.

The Denver Classroom Teachers' Association has sued school officials for failing to honor part of a 1991 pay-raise agreement.

The suit, filed in Denver District Court last month, charges that Superintendent Evie G. Dennis and the school board violated the teachers' contract by denying this year's 3.5 percent raise in an effort to save the schools about $30 million in the coming year.

Leonard Fox, the union president, said he warned the board this summer that his group would launch a court battle if the raise was not guaranteed in the new budget.

But the district decided only to include longevity-pay hikes of between 2 percent and 3 percent. Those raises will go to about two-thirds of the city's teachers, Patty Murphy, a district spokeswoman, said.

Vol. 12, Issue 40

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