State News Briefs

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Health officials in Washington State are testing children's blood for high levels of lead to determine whether a need exists for lead-intervention programs.

The children being tested, ages 6 months to 3 years, are from low-income neighborhoods in Tacoma and Yakima, said Lew Kittle, a project manager for the state health department's office of toxic substances. Low-income families tend to live in homes built before 1960, when lead-based paint was commonly used. Exposure to lead can impair learning ability in children.

If a significant number of children have elevated levels of lead in their blood, the health department will develop ways to screen other children, Mr. Kittle said. The state will also begin a public education program on the dangers of lead, and certify workers to rid homes of lead-based paint.

Promoting Gay Awareness: Massachusetts this month became the first state to require teachers to learn about gay and lesbian students as part of their certification training.

A state-appointed task force will soon provide workshops and instructional materials to college education departments around the state.

Requiring teachers to learn about the difficulties homosexual students face is part of a larger state effort to promote those students' rights, said David LaFontaine, the chairman of the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth.

While some critics have called the measure indoctrination, such training is important, said Mr. LaFontaine, because it may help prevent gay students from being harassed, dropping out of school, or even committing suicide.

Troubled Districts: South Carolina education officials will dispatch an "emergency-assistance team" of parents and community and business leaders into Lee County as part of a state campaign to help school districts that are failing to meet the state's minimum academic standards.

Declaring a "state of greatest need" in Lee County, State Superintendent of Education Barbara Nielsen has enlisted community activists, church officials, and educators from neighboring districts to create a three-year plan to put the school system back on the right track.

South Carolina requires districts to meet performance criteria as well as demonstrate a certain level of student and teacher attendance. So far, Lee County is the fifth district in the state to fall short of these standards.

"It's not the children that are failing; it's a system that's failing the children," said Ms. Nielsen.

She added that the interventions are intended to make state takeovers of low-achieving school districts unnecessary.

Dairy Dispute: The Montana Board of Milk Control is looking at possible illegalities in how a Billings school district gets its milk.

Billings District 2 buys Montana-produced milk after it has been transported and sold to a Wyoming food-service contractor, thus avoiding Montana's higher, state-controlled milk prices. District officials say that will save the Billings schools $27,000 this year.

"There may or may not be an impropriety to the transactions," said William Ross, the chief of the milk-control board. The investigation followed complaints by dairy farmers.

A state task force on government renewal is recommending that the issue of state-regulated milk prices be put to Montana voters.

Vol. 14, Issue 13

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