District News Roundup

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On the recommendation of the state board of education, the Massachusetts education department plans to issue new guidelines to boost the recruitment of non-black minority-group members for a desegregation program that allows Boston students to attend suburban schools.

Although African-Americans remain the largest minority group in Boston, the number of Latino and Asian students in the city has increased in recent years, Robert V. Antonucci, the state commissioner of education, pointed out.

"With the populations changing, there has been a concern that there really should be a more aggressive approach in getting other minorities to participate,'' he said. "We fully support that.''

Since its inception more than two decades ago, the program has been administered by a private vendor, the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity Inc., or METCO.

"I have met the guidelines which the state set up in 1991, which was to increase the percentage of Latinos and Asians by 2 percent each year,'' said Jean McGuire, the executive director of METCO. In order to increase the percentages, she said, the $12-million-a-year program will need considerably more funding, in particular to hire bilingual support-staff members.

Enrollment Change: The La Joya, Tex., district recently adopted a controversial enrollment policy intended to slow the tide of roughly 1,000 new students a year.

The policy, aimed at students who live with someone other than a parent or legal guardian, gives school officials in La Joya, which is on the border with Mexico, discretion to determine whether a student is a legitimate resident of the district.

Effective immediately, the policy initially will affect up to 500 students in the 12,300-student district.

School officials said many students move into the district, living with friends or relatives, so that they can attend school there.

Groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund are considering taking legal action against the district.

The groups cite what they say are federal and state constitutional, statutory, and regulatory violations in the policy.

Under the policy, students whose residency is questioned have a three-step appeal process or can opt to pay tuition to stay in the schools.

Safe School Routes: After two fatal shootings and several stabbings at city schools last year, the Los Angeles school district has joined with police officials and local politicians to combat crime in and around its 800 public schools.

Vowing to make schools safe for every child, school leaders announced a plan this month to create "safe-passage corridors'' where community members and law-enforcement officials will monitor school routes to make sure that students are protected when traveling to and from school.

The city will not need to raise additional funds but will shift resources and personnel to the project, school officials say.

"Many of our children have to travel through neighborhoods and have to enter environments where death, destruction, guns, drugs, and gang activity are part of their everyday routes to school,'' said Willie Williams, the Los Angeles police chief. "We are committed to trying to change that,'' he said.

A pilot program at two of the city's high schools will begin this month.

Below-Standard Schools: Two Baltimore high schools marked by declining attendance, high dropout rates, and low test scores have been targeted for possible state intervention.

Frederick Douglass and Patterson high schools, working with the Baltimore city schools, must submit improvement plans by April 1. If the plans are rejected, school officials will have a second opportunity to propose a reorganization.

If the state still does not consider the plans adequate, it will set up alternative programs, including possible takeover by an outside contractor, according to the Maryland Department of Education.

Nancy Grasmick, the state schools superintendent, said last week that the two schools are far from meeting state standards. The dropout rate at Douglass High is 38.7 percent; the state average is 5.4 percent. Patterson High's dropout rate is about 16 percent, and its attendance rate is declining. Both schools have among the lowest scores on statewide competence tests.

Maryland has had the power to take over failing schools, or order "reconstitution,'' since last November.

Desegregation Settlement: A California judge is expected to approve a final settlement next month in the San Jose Unified School District's long-running desegregation controversy.

The district filed a proposed settlement this month that was negotiated with lawyers for Hispanic parents who challenged the schools' policies.

Court supervision began in the district in 1985 with a massive busing program. Settlement talks began three years ago and culminated this month in a new definition of desegregation, agreements on an expanded bilingual-education program, and provisions for integrating advanced classes, gifted-and-talented programs, and special-education courses.

Observers said that while the settlement marks a significant step for the district, it may not immediately be released from court supervision, because the judge may choose to wait to see how the district monitors its ability to implement the new policy.

Vol. 13, Issue 18

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