District News Roundup

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A federal appeals court has ordered a California school district to accommodate Sikh children who had been barred from attending school wearing ceremonial knives that are central to their religion.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was intended to get the family of three children back into school while a lawsuit is being decided. School began Aug. 29 in the Livingston Union School District, but the three children have been taught at home since January.

However, Henry M. Escobar, the Livingston superintendent, said last week that since the Sept. 2 ruling, the two sides have been unable to agree on a temporary solution.

The lawyer for the family had resubmitted an offer to have the children's seven-inch daggers, known as kirpans, sewn into their sheaths. But Mr. Escobar said that was unacceptable, given the district's zero-tolerance policy on weapons and their replicas. The kirpans, he said, "would pose a threat and would compromise the safety of our students."

The plaintiffs had appealed an earlier decision by the district court judge that said the school district could bar the students' knives. (See Education Week, June 8, 1994.)

Teacher Convicted

A Chelsea, Mich., teacher who fatally shot his school superintendent last year has been convicted of first-degree murder.

A sentencing hearing for Stephen Leith is set for later this month. The former chemistry teacher was also found guilty last month in Washtenaw County Circuit Court of assaulting a principal and a teachers' union representative at a meeting where Mr. Leith had been called to answer charges of student harassment. After the meeting, Mr. Leith went home and returned with a gun.

Taxes Paid Early

School officials in Scott County, Ky., say they will be able to build a school after executives of the local Toyota plant agreed to pay two decades' worth of property taxes in advance.

Residents last year defeated a tax increase intended to pay for a new high school.

Toyota said it will pay the district $8 million to finance the school in lieu of paying taxes. About 20 percent of the students in the central Kentucky district come from families employed by the company.

Freer Speech

The Dade County, Fla., school board has broadened the free-speech protections it offers students who give graduation speeches.

The school board last month extended to student speechmakers the same freedoms it gives student journalists. That means students making speeches will not have to submit their manuscripts for review except for checks on form and typographical errors, said Henry Fraind, a district spokesman.

Like the journalists, however, the speechmakers must conform to rules barring unsubstantiated facts, obscenities, and defamation of character.

Student speeches became a hot issue last school year when an administrator at North Miami High School took issue with a change the class salutatorian made in his graduation speech when he delivered it.

Preschool Teacher Shot

A judge last week ordered a 36-year-old woman to stand trial on charges that she shot and killed a teacher in front of her suburban Philadelphia preschool class.

The teacher was gunned down July 28 as she and her students--ages 3, 4, and 5--ate lunch in their classroom at the Ardmore (Pa.) Child Care Center.

The woman in custody has given police a written confession, according to the county district attorney. An old feud between the victim and the suspect, who were once neighbors, may have led to the shooting, he said.

New Uniforms

White-and-blue uniforms are standard attire this year for most elementary and middle school students in California's Long Beach Unified School District.

In January, the 57,000-student district approved a plan to require uniforms, making it among the first large public school districts nationwide to enact such a policy. Parents, however, may opt out of the program if they wish, officials said.

With the recent signing of a new law by Gov. Pete Wilson allowing districts statewide to enact student dress codes--including uniform requirements--other California public schools may soon follow.

"The law is not a mandatory but an optional uniform policy," said Francisco Lobaco, the legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Sacramento. "Districts must provide parents with the right to opt out of the program."

Gov. Wilson said the new legislation should help districts in their efforts to ban gang colors and symbols.

Hill-Rolling Incidents

A Kansas high school principal has suspended seven students involved in rolling two freshman boys down a nearby hill in separate incidents that left each victim with a broken arm.

In both cases, which occurred within a week of each other, a group of upperclassmen grabbed the younger students and rolled them down the hill near Shawnee Mission East High School outside Kansas City.

In the most recent incident, on Sept. 1, a 14-year-old soccer player needed surgery.

Marlin Stanberry, the principal, disputed local media reports that the incidents were part of a hazing ritual.

Mr. Stanberry said that a very small group of students participated and that, in this most recent case, the injured party and the other boys were just playing around.

Vol. 14, Issue 02

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