District News Roundup

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Responding to an increase in recent years in weapons-related violations occurring on or near school campuses, the Los Angeles school board this month decided to require that school-police officers wear full police uniforms during their regular campus patrols.

Until now, the armed officers who patrol 49 senior high schools and 53 of the district's 72 middle schools have worked in plainclothes attire, maintaining what officials call a "low-profile presence.''

The absence of uniforms was thought to assist in establishing relationships with students who might be intimidated by a uniform, district officials said in a statement.

The recent weapons-related incidents--often committed by outsiders who do not realize police officers are nearby--persuaded school board members that more visible police presence could act as a deterrent.

The school board also expanded the authority of school police, who are now able to issue citations for violations of various municipal codes, county ordinances, and state motor-vehicle codes that occur off campus but near a school.

In response to a recent scandal involving a teacher who had sexual intercourse with students in school storage rooms and classrooms, principals in the Anne Arundel County, Md., district have ordered dozens of windows for interior doors in their buildings.

In the past month, 25 principals have requested a total of 60 door windows at $300 each for workrooms, storage rooms, and counseling offices where teachers can be alone with students, according to Ed Almes, the supervisor of maintenance for the Anne Arundel County schools. That is five times as many requests as were made last year, Mr. Almes said.

The spate of orders was attributed to the conviction last month of Ronald Price, a former social-studies teacher at Northeast High School, on three counts of sexual child abuse. Mr. Price, who was sentenced last week to 26 years in prison and five years' supervised probation, admitted to having sexual intercourse with students on school property and at his home. Many principals argued that if more window panels were in place, they would help deter such activity.

But some teachers think the money could be better used for instruction or repairs. The school system allocated only $300,000 this year for minor repairs, and the door-window purchases mean less funding for projects like repairing light fixtures, installing new air conditioners, and fixing computers, Mr. Almes said.

An alleged plan by 7th- and 8th-grade students in California to kidnap an entire class was foiled by school administrators late last month.

Two 12-year-olds and one 13-year-old, all boys, who attended Marine View Middle School in suburban Huntington Beach, had devised a rough plot to take hostage an unspecified classroom full of students, school officials said.

According to the school's principal, Janet Reece, one of the students' criteria was that the classroom have a window through which they could view outside events.

On the day of the planned kidnapping, she said, the three boys sought to recruit a fourth student to assist them. That student notified the principal, who brought the three students to her office. She then found two handguns, a dagger, and an 18-inch machete in the oldest boy's backpack.

The students were arrested and sent to Orange County Juvenile Hall. The 13-year-old was formally charged with possession of a handgun on school grounds and conspiracy to commit kidnapping; the two 12-year-olds were released to their parents, and their roles remain under investigation.

John Thomas, the director of student services for the Ocean View school district, said the three students were suspended pending a review by the school board next month.

The majority of Marine View students were "totally calm'' after the plan was revealed to them, Mr. Thomas said.

While a school-safety task force of 12 students, teachers, and parents was created in response to the scheme, he said, the incident was seen as an isolated event that does not necessitate changes in the district's security policies.

The Sheboygan, Wis., school board has decided that a student on criminal probation will no longer be allowed to play on a local high school football team.

Damon T. Green, 18, a student at Sheboygan North High School, is serving a 10-month jail sentence for aiming a loaded gun at a man during a fight.

Under a state work-release program, Mr. Green, who was charged as an adult, was allowed to attend school and participate in extracurricular activities while serving his sentence; he has played in five football games this fall.

The school board of the 10,000-student Sheboygan Area School District discovered the situation through news reports of the student's September probation hearing. Shortly afterward, the board barred Mr. Green from the football team.

The student appealed to the five teachers who sit on the high school's student-activities council, who voted to reinstate him.

A day later, the school board held its own meeting and revised the student-activities code to bar any student convicted of a felony and serving a prison sentence from participating in extracurricular activities. Mr. Green has not appealed the board's decision.

The policy was modified because it had contained no provisions relating to students with criminal records, said Dave Mills, the board's president.

"The activities code was written in 1976; back then, we didn't deal with guns,'' he said.

A 13-year-old boy who was expelled from his middle school last spring for pointing a loaded gun at his teacher may be denied admission to the 8th grade in a neighboring district, a Michigan state-court judge has ruled.

Iosco County Circuit Judge J. Richard Ernst this month rejected a request by the Michigan Department of Social Services to overturn the Tawas Area School District's decision to deny admission to the student.

"There was a lot of concern about his being placed in public school so quickly without clear-cut evidence of rehabilitation,'' explained Dr. Timothy Burg, the president of the school board.

The student was expelled from Surline Middle School in Ogemaw County after the gun incident. A juvenile court recently placed him in a group home within the Tawas district.

Judge Ernst ruled that the district could consider his prior conduct in deciding whether to admit him. But the judge said state officials could return to court if they wished to argue that the student was denied due process by the Tawas school board or that the board's decision amounted to "an abuse of discretion.''

State officials have not yet decided whether to appeal, said Frederick MacKinnon, the prosecuting attorney for Ogemaw County, who is representing the state in the case.

Mr. MacKinnon said he fears that "this case could become a basis for school districts across the state to refuse students for a variety of behavioral problems, not just guns.''

The Lewiston, Me., school board has turned down a mother's request that her severely disabled daughter be allowed to die if she goes into cardiac arrest in the classroom.

Linda Lafrance told the board that, in asking for a "do not resuscitate'' order, she was acting in the best interests of her 12-year-old daughter, who is multiply handicapped. The child attends a special-education program at a local elementary school.

But the district's superintendent and several teachers said the proposal made them uneasy.

"That's not a judgment I think non-medical people should be making,'' said Robert Connors, Lewiston's superintendent. The school board last month voted 6 to 2 against honoring the mother's request.

The district is at least the third in Maine to grapple with the question of whether to comply with do-not-resuscitate orders for some of the "medically fragile'' children they serve. The issue also arose late last year in East Holden and Bangor. (See Education Week, Dec. 16, 1992.)

Mr. Connors said the Lewiston school board will decide this month whether to permanently bar district personnel from complying with such orders.

New York City's new chancellor, Ramon C. Cortines, last week reinstated 10 school administrators who his predecessor, Joseph A. Fernandez, had removed in response to allegations that they benefited from political patronage.

Chancellor Cortines said he reinstated the nine principals and one assistant principal to their jobs in Community School District 12 in the Bronx because a report on political patronage in their district had not recommended that disciplinary action be taken against them.

In a conciliatory letter to the district board, Mr. Cortines said, "It is time for all of us to turn our focus to instruction, which is, after all, our central mission.'' He also said he hopes the administrators will not be distracted by concern over their status.

Mr. Cortines cautioned, however, that he would closely monitor the district to guard against a recurrence of the type of corruption uncovered by Edward F. Stancik, the special commissioner for investigation for the city school system. (See Education Week, Sept. 29, 1993.)

In a second letter, Mr. Cortines warned the board that he had learned of new allegations that it was trying to meddle in budget and hiring decisions, and asked for assurances that the charges were unfounded.

Mr. Stancik had urged the chancellor not to reinstate the administrators, arguing that such a move would be regarded as granting amnesty and would encourage additional abuses.

The city's principals' union had fought the administrators' dismissals in court, and they had been temporarily reinstated.

A New York City principal wrote letters that falsely threatened parents of truant students with the loss of state welfare benefits, an investigation has concluded.

Hector Rivera, the principal of Brooklyn's Junior High School 136, last spring sent letters to parents of some students on paper that was designed to look like official state-agency letterhead. According to investigators for the school system, Mr. Rivera warned the families that their welfare benefits would be cut if their truant children did not return to school, and forged the signature of Mary Jo Bane, who was then commissioner of the state department of social services.

Suzan Flamm, a deputy special commissioner of investigation for the New York City schools, said that Mr. Rivera admitted to having sent the letters in an effort to draw students back to the classroom. The special commissioner's office referred the case to the office of Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines with a recommendation that Mr. Rivera be disciplined.

The chancellor has since turned the case over to the superintendent of Community School District 15, which includes Mr. Rivera's school, to determine specific disciplinary action.

"The end was noble; but as a role model to students, his approach clearly was not the best,'' said Frank Sobrino, a spokesman for Mr. Cortines.

Vol. 13, Issue 07

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