District News Roundup

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Some 36 percent of New York City public high school students responding to a federal survey said they were threatened with physical harm at school or on their way to or from school during the 1991-92 year.

But the incidence of violent and potentially dangerous behavior reported by students inside school buildings was "substantially lower'' than in the students' homes or neighborhoods, the survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

Among other findings, 21 percent of the respondents said they had carried a weapon to or from school at least once during the school year, and 24.7 percent said they had been involved in a physical fight either at school, at home, or in their neighborhood.

The study, released this month, is based on a 1992 survey of 1,400 students in 15 of the city's high schools.

The study also evaluated the effect that metal detectors may have had in preventing or reducing violence in the schools.

It concluded that the detectors, which are used in 41 public high schools in the city, may help reduce the number of guns and knives on school grounds, but have no direct effect on the number of injuries or threats of violence reported.

In schools with metal-detector programs, 7.8 percent of the students said they had brought a weapon into the building; 13.6 percent of the students in schools without the scanning devices said they had carried a weapon to school.

Complaints of bias have prompted a newspaper in New York City's Staten Island borough to revise the lesson plans it has been publishing for schools on the possible secession of the borough from the city.

The Staten Island Advance agreed to change several phrases in the lesson plans that were called biased. But its editors denied allegations by Mayor David N. Dinkins and Schools Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines that other sections are also racist.

Anti-secession activists last week asked the Staten Island community school board to bar teachers from using the plans. The board refused on the grounds that such an action would infringe on academic freedom.

The 13-page guide for teachers, being printed this month in several installments, discusses issues that island residents will weigh when they vote next month on whether the borough should try to secede from New York City. If residents vote to secede, the issue will go before the state legislature.

A preliminary audit by the Washington State auditor's office alleges that administrators from the Peninsula school district engaged in widespread financial misconduct.

The 35-page auditor's report charges that the officials violated the state constitution, state law, and district policies by obtaining excess school-bus funds, overspending on a sewer project, and diverting school funds for personal projects.

The audit, which started in April as a routine, biennial check, eventually expanded in scope to incidents that allegedly occurred as long ago as 1990, as state auditors found evidence of multiple violations by the superintendent and other officials.

One of the most serious of the audit's 16 charges is the allegation that school-bus ridership was consistently inflated throughout the district. While the report did not estimate how much excess funding the district may have gained through the practice, it noted that each student could earn the district $301 per year in state transportation funds. According to the report, the district's transportation director, Roger Anderson, retired this summer after admitting to the practice.

In addition, Superintedent Tom Hulst and Deputy Superintendent John Armenia allegedly spent $2,600 at local restaurants and country clubs, and may have sanctioned $32,000 in catering fees for district meetings. Mr. Armenia also is alleged to have used $6,113 in staff time and materials to produce and distribute Rotary Club newsletters, and to have used district resources to support political campaigns.

Other possible violations involve a sewer project, where improper bidding procedures for engineers and other illegal construction and funding practices may have cost the district $588,225 in bond funds.

The audit makes 40 recommendations, including remuneration of misused state funds by the district and officials. The report also urges state prosecutors to investigate the sewer project and bus-ridership allegations.

Officials of the 8,700-student district issued a statement saying much of the preliminary report is "correctible'' and that the district will respond to the charges within 30 days, as required by state audit procedures.

The Seminole County (Fla.) Education Association has filed complaints on behalf of school psychologists who claim the school district has punished them for resisting a policy that would make it more difficult to place children in special-education classes.

The Seminole County district last year approved new guidelines for testing potential special-education students, in an effort to enroll more of them in regular classes. Many school psychologists, who are involved in psychological testing of such students, oppose the policy because they think it bars some students from services they need.

In two separate complaints filed with the state public employees relations commission and the U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights, the psychologists accuse the district of violating a state labor law and a federal law by intimidating and verbally reprimanding those who resisted the policy.

Nancy S. Wheeler, the executive director of the Seminole County Education Association, charged that district officials routinely ordered psychologists to alter their diagnoses of special-education students, and threatened to discipline them if they refused.

District officials have said the complaints are unfounded and the psychologists were simply refusing to follow school procedures.

A hearing is scheduled for next month.

Seattle's superintendent of schools has outlined a framework for a multiyear effort to restructure the school district's curriculum, governance, and assessment systems.

The comprehensive plan will change "what and how we teach, how we make decisions, how we prioritize our resources and how we work together,'' Superintendent William Kendrick said.

The effort focuses on curriculum and organizational restructuring, improving accountability, and shared decisionmaking.

The revised curriculum will incorporate community-developed learning goals as well as interdisciplinary teaching. It is to be in place by the 1994-95 academic year.

The district is also considering adopting new assessment methods, such as portfolios and writing samples.

Although restructuring efforts are already occurring at individual schools, Mr. Kendrick said, "they are not tied together the way they need to be, and we are not making the kind of systemic change we need to make.''

Both the school board and the Seattle Education Association support the restructuring efforts.

Vol. 13, Issue 08

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