State News Roundup

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The Minnesota state board of education last week approved an optional curriculum that teaches elementary school students about how to protect themselves from sexual harassment.

Under the K-6 curriculum, which was developed by a group of educators and child-protection experts, teachers will use puppets to teach younger children about respect, dignity, and equality, said Sue Sattel, a gender-equity specialist for the state board. Students in the 4th through 6th grades will be given such assignments as writing about sexual harassment in the media.

The program for elementary school students is part of the state's ongoing effort to address sexual harassment in schools. The state earlier developed a secondary school curriculum on the problem, and also requires that every school district adopt and enforce a policy against sexual harassment.

Minnesota is the only state that mandates harassment policies that could expel students as young as kindergarten age who fail to respond to other disciplinary measures, Ms. Sattel said.

Several elementary school students in the state have complained about sexual harassment in the past several years.

The case of a 7-year-old girl in Eden Prairie, who complained she was harassed by boys on the school bus, received national attention. In that case, the U.S. Education Department found that the district had violated a federal statute requiring equal educational opportunities for boys and girls.

Utah's state schools chief did not violate the state constitution when he provided $10,000 in public funds to support a Rhode Island district's defense of prayer at school graduation ceremonies, the Utah Supreme Court has held.

Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jay B. Taggart made the decision to send the money to the Providence, R.I., district, which was rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court in its effort to retain prayers by local clergymen at graduation ceremonies. Utah officials said they wanted to help clarify the issue because two districts in their state were facing lawsuits over graduation prayers.

In its 1992 ruling in Lee v. Weisman, the High Court ruled that the practice violated the U.S. Constitution's ban on a government establishment of religion.

The Society of Separationists sued Mr. Taggart in state court, arguing that the $10,000 contribution to the Rhode Island district was a violation of the state constitution's ban on public funds being spent for religious worship or to support "any ecclesiastical establishment.''

The Utah Supreme Court upheld a state judge's dismissal of the suit, saying the group's position "makes no logical sense and lacks any legal merit.''

All of the 28 schools surveyed in five Florida districts have adopted improvement plans, as required by a 1991 state law, state auditors have found.

The review was conducted for the Florida Commission on Education Reform and Accountability, which is overseeing implementation of a new system of state regulation.

Under the 1991 law, schools are required to make progress toward achieving goals for student performance, and must adopt improvement plans developed with the help of school-advisory councils. (See Education Week, March 17, 1993.)

The review found that all five districts surveyed also had created advisory councils at each school, and most had procedures for insuring diverse membership on the panels.

The preliminary report notes, however, that the districts' responses to the survey were not always correct. A final report, based also on interviews with educators and community members, is due next month.

The number of Illinois schools that exceeded state standards for student achievement nearly doubled this year, according to an annual state report.

Results of the Illinois Goal Assessment Program, released this month, showed that 192 schools exceeded state performance standards, compared with 101 in 1992.

The annual report card also found a slight increase--from 288 to 294--in the number of schools that failed to reach the state standards.

Vol. 13, Issue 08

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