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Federal Appeals Court Bars Student-Led Graduation Prayer

A federal appeals court has ruled that a New Jersey district's effort to sanction student-led graduation prayer was unconstitutional.

In 1993, a majority of seniors at Highland Regional High School in the Black Horse Pike district voted to have a prayer at their graduation ceremony. However, a student sued and won an injunction barring the prayer.

On May 24, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled 9-4 that such a prayer did not amount to protected speech.

Prayer advocates have argued that graduation prayer is constitutional if students vote for it and a member of the graduating class delivers a nonsectarian prayer.

The majority in American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey v. Black Horse Pike Regional School District disagreed. The religious rights of the students who did not want a prayer could not be compromised because of a majority vote, the court said.

Repair Money Approved

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and the New York City Council agreed last week to give the city's public schools $276 million for repairs, with the stipulation that they, not the school board, handle the money.

The money is the first installment of a larger proposal to borrow $1.4 billion for the city's aging schools over the next four years. The loan will allow repair work to begin on dilapidated school buildings as early as next month, a district spokeswoman said.

Loan Approval

An Ohio legislative panel has approved a $42.1 million loan for the financially troubled Cleveland schools.

The state-guaranteed loan, which would come from a commercial lender, will allow the 73,000-student district to meet its payroll and pay other bills, according to a district spokesman.

The plan also includes $53 million in spending cuts over the next two years. John Goff, the state schools superintendent, said the system still faces a $150 million long-term debt that must be reorganized. The district has an annual budget of $533 million.

Avoiding Sanctions

Threatened with a contempt-of-court motion, the Rochester, N.Y., district will attempt to resolve a longstanding special education lawsuit.

The Public Interest Law Office of Rochester brought the class action in 1981 on behalf of students with disabilities and their parents. This month, the plaintiffs asked a federal district judge to find the district in contempt of court for failing to comply with a 1989 consent decree and a 1993 enforcement order to overhaul the district's special education system.

The plaintiffs asked the court to impose sanctions--including hefty fines if necessary--to force the district to eliminate the backlog of students waiting to be evaluated and placed in appropriate classrooms.

The court asked the parties to negotiate a resolution by August.

Warning on Creationism

A suburban Cleveland district has issued a warning to all of its staff members: The biblical version of creation is not to be taught in schools.

The Lakewood district circulated a memo this month reminding staff members that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that creationism as a religious belief could not be taught as science in public schools, said Joseph Madak, the superintendent of the 8,100-student district.

The memo was prompted by an investigation into the actions of two high school physics teachers. One teacher assigned a project teaching creationism, and one called himself a creationist and had also made anti-homosexual remarks in the classroom, the superintendent said.

The memo also warned staff members against making discriminatory remarks, Mr. Madak added.

Denver Pay Raise

Denver teachers will receive a 3 percent pay increase in the fall under terms of a new contract with the school district.

Members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association agreed to the pay increase earlier this month, said Mark Stevens, a spokesman for the 64,000-student district. The union had originally asked for a 6.5 percent raise.

The contract also includes performance-based pay increases for teachers.

Contract Settlement

A one-day teachers' strike in Compton, Calif., ended last week after the teachers' union and the school district reached a contract agreement.

Talks had broken down after the 28,000-student district sought to reduce health benefits for members of the Compton Education Association. Union members have worked without a contract since last June.

Under the new contract, which expires next year, the teachers will maintain their health benefits, get a 4 percent raise, and receive a one-time 4 percent bonus.

Free To Sue

The parents of a Maine student who was bludgeoned by two youths who entered his school through an unlocked door can sue the town for negligence, the state supreme court has ruled.

The boy's parents sued the town of Kittery three years ago because they said the school failed to protect their child by leaving the school accessible to the youths, who beat their son with an aluminum bat. The boy, who was then 16, needed extensive orthodontic work.

The town can be sued under a state law that holds government entities responsible for the operation of public buildings, the court said in its June 3 decision.

Edward R. Benjamin Jr., the town's lawyer, said he was confident the town would not be held liable.

Bribes for Grades

A New York City teacher has been convicted on charges that he solicited bribes from a student in exchange for passing grades.

Kenneth D. Cotton, a 45-year-old economics teacher at Jamaica High School, was charged last June with accepting $300 from an 18-year-old student in exchange for a passing grade. He is scheduled to be sentenced this week, and faces up to seven years in prison.

Vol. 15, Issue 39, Page 4

Published in Print: June 19, 1996, as District News Roundup
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