District News Roundup

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In response to a report by the New York City Board of Education showing a 16 percent increase in crime in the public schools, the district's chancellor has expanded a program of weapons checks and both Mayor David N. Dinkins and his rival have called for additional security measures.

In a campaign speech at the American Youth Hostel last week, Mr. Dinkins proposed assigning one school-system security officer to each of the city's 1,069 schools. He also promised to use federal money to establish a school-safety trust fund that would be used to hire an additional 1,200 city police officers to protect the public schools.

He emphasized that the officers would function as role models and not as guards. The Mayor said he "envisions them teaching young people about respect and decency and the laws that hold our city together.''

In another campaign speech, Mr. Dinkins's opponent in the upcoming mayoral election, Rudolph W. Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor, blamed the Mayor for the city's crime problem and proposed creating a 2-block "safety zone'' around each school.

A few days before Mayor Dinkins's speech, Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines announced that new teams of security officers would visit 20 additional middle and high schools to conduct random weapons searches once a week. Currently, such searches are conducted at 41 of the city's 135 high schools.

Mr. Cortines warned that these efforts would be only temporary unless more funding can be secured.

A man fired 29 rounds onto a Wyoming school's football field earlier this month, wounding four students before shooting himself.

The assailant, Kevin Newman, 29, died four hours later at a local hospital.

Thirty-one students from the 550-student Central Middle School in Sheridan, Wyo., were playing on the football field when Mr. Newman walked onto the field with a handgun and a rifle and began shooting indiscriminately. No students were killed.

Investigators discovered that Mr. Newman was recently discharged from the Navy. A suicide note found in a Sheridan hotel room did not indicate that he had planned to visit the school.

Three of the four injured students were sent home from the hospital with minor injuries. The fourth was listed in fair condition last week and was expected to be released shortly.

A team of school mental-health specialists and local psychologists was counseling students at the scene within 15 minutes of the incident, according to Russell Carlson, the superintendent of Sheridan School District 2. He said the counselors would be on hand as long as they were needed.

The county executive should be given the power to hire and fire the school superintendent in Prince George's County, Md., an advisory commission says.

The panel also favors shifting budgeting power from the school board to the county executive.

In a report last week on government operations in the suburban county outside Washington, the 27-member independent panel, headed by former Director of Central Intelligence Stansfield Turner, focused outlining what the it sees as the failings of the county's schools. It cited low achievement scores and low morale as justifications for its recommendations.

Under the proposal, the school board would play an advisory role, assessing school performance and "being an advocate for children,'' according to a summary of the report. The plan also calls for seeking an end to court-ordered busing and for expanding the district's magnet-school program.

The report highlights longstanding tension between the county government and the school board. In a separate letter sent to the school board chairman last week, Parris N. Glendening, the Prince George's county executive, called for the ouster of Superintendent Edward M. Felegy.

Mr. Glendening, who is expected to run for governor of Maryland next year, said he supported the commission's plan. He contended that the school system would "drift farther into mediocrity'' if Mr. Felegy's stewardship continued.

Bonnie Jenkins, a school board spokeswoman, called the proposed changes "purely political.''

The proposed governance changes would need the approval of the state legislature.

Following the death of a student infected with the hantavirus, schools in Fort Totten, N.D., were closed Sept. 16-17 so officials could insure that the grounds were not inhabited by mice, which transmit the virus.

Michael Smith, a 14-year-old boy who lived on the Fort Totten Indian Reservation and had attended the high school there for only a couple of days, died last month of pneumonia, and was later confirmed to have been infected with the hantavirus.

The virus, which has killed at least 21 people in nine states, is spread by inhaling airborne particles of urine, droppings, or saliva from infected mice, according to health officials. It is not contagious.

On the advice of a lawyer, officials of the Fort Totten schools decided to close schools until students' safety could be assured.

"[The school closing] was just a preventative measure,'' said Charles Guthrie, the superintendent of Four Winds High School, which closed last week along with its K-8 counterpart, Tate Topa Tribal School.

Mousetraps were set during the two-day hiatus, but no mice were caught, and students returned to school Sept. 20.

The Indian Health Service distributed pamphlets to Fort Totten residents on how to discourage mice from invading their homes, and brought in professionals to teach local workers how to trap mice and test them for the virus.

The Anaheim, Calif., school district has dropped its opposition to a major expansion of Disneyland in return for $1 million and a package of educational programs.

School officials in the district, which includes the popular theme park run by the Walt Disney Company, had filed a state lawsuit seeking to block expansion of the park. The $3 billion project, still in the planning stages, would at least double the size of the attraction.

Six local districts objected to the plan, contending that their schools' capacity would be overwhelmed by extra students from families of additional workers at the enlarged park.

Five of the districts dropped their opposition when Disney offered arts and educational programs, including a "Disney 500'' honors society, tutoring programs, and mobile immunization vans.

The Anaheim city district held out and filed suit. In addition to the $1 million settlement and the special programs, the district will receive $1.2 million in state-mandated developer fees in advance, rather than over the six years construction is expected to take.

Seeking to improve attendance, the Los Angeles Unified School District has established a hot line for anonymous tips about students who are truant from school.

Radio and television spots being aired locally encourage students, parents, and community members to call the number if they suspect a child is being truant.

The tips will be followed up by attendance-office staff members who will provide assistance to the truant children and their families if needed, district officials said.

The Georgia parole board has commuted a three-year prison sentence ordered for a 17-year-old high-school student who was convicted of stealing ice cream from a school cafeteria.

Citing a nationwide atmosphere of "mass hysteria'' over juvenile crime, the board granted Dehundra Caldwell two years' probation and ordered him to finish high school.

A parole is likely in 1995.

Mr. Caldwell, who is black, admitted taking $20 in ice-cream bars from a freezer at the Upson-Lee Middle School in Thomaston on July 11. A white state judge sentenced him to three years, prompting charges of racism.

Under the parole board's order, Mr. Caldwell must maintain good grades, stay out of trouble, and tutor another student.

A grand jury investigating the safety of students in the Walton County, Ga., school system has recommended a review of all of the district's disciplinary procedures, including those governing administrators and teachers.

The county grand jury, which has the power under Georgia law to investigate the operation of various government bodies, concluded after two days of hearings this month that the district had more serious problems than several reported fights between students.

In checking on how the fights were handled, the grand jury heard parents voice frustration about dealing with the system and teachers testify that they feared losing their jobs if they complained about certain problems.

The grand jury concluded in a report that the district appears to have serious problems with its hiring, firing, and transfer policies, and that political concerns appear to harm education there.

In response, Superintendent Kenneth Cloud criticized the report as lacking specifics to back its allegations and said the panel was not representative of the people in the district.

Vol. 13, Issue 04

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