News in Brief: A National Roundup

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N.Y. Weighs Language Test for Middle School Students

The New York state board of regents is considering requiring students as young as middle school age to prove their proficiency in a foreign language.

Although students in the state already must take two years of a foreign language, and most do so in middle school, they would have to take a proficiency exam as early as the 8th grade, under the proposal. They would have until senior year to pass it, however.

The proposed requirement, which is believed to be the first of its kind nationwide, is an outgrowth of the regents' move to set tougher academic standards for students in New York.

The board plans a series of public hearings this spring; with a final vote coming as early as the summer.

Mass. Streamlines Takeovers

The Massachusetts school board voted last week to adopt new guidelines for more expeditious state takeovers of underperforming, "educationally bankrupt" schools and districts.

State law currently gives troubled schools a two-year warning before state officials can intervene.

The proposals are in response to the expected loss of accreditation at Lawrence High School in Lawrence, where an accrediting agency has been warning school administrators about misallocation and mismanagement for years. ("State Board Mulls First-Ever Takeover of Mass. District," Feb. 12, 1997.)

Jury Awards $3.5 Million

A Washington school district and its high school principal have been ordered to pay $3.5 million to a former student for failing to protect her from a counselor who filmed pornographic videos of her.

A U.S. District Court jury delivered the verdict this month against the 450-student Davenport school district, which is located in the eastern part of the state. The jury awarded another $350,000 to the woman's parents, according to Richard Eymann, the lawyer for both the woman and her parents.

The school counselor was convicted in 1994 of sexual exploitation of a minor and is serving time in a federal prison. The woman, now 22, sued the district in 1995, claiming that administrators had failed to take action against the counselor despite indications of improper conduct.

Lawyers for the district did not respond to phone calls last week.

Cheating Suspected in La.

The Educational Testing Service is investigating suspected cheating by Louisiana teachers on a test needed for certification as an administrator.

The Princeton, N.J.-based testing organization last month notified educators who took the Educational Leadership: Administration and Supervision assessment that someone had gained access to the test and made its contents available to test-takers--primarily in the Lafayette and Baton Rouge areas--before the exam was given. The ETS letter said an undetermined number of people saw an advance copy of the exam.

The ETS told test-takers that because the validity of scores was in question, all of them would need to retake the test or cancel their scores and receive a refund.

Midol Suspension Upheld

A federal judge ruled last week that the Fairborn, Ohio, public schools did not violate a 14-year-old student's constitutional rights when officials suspended her for giving Midol to a classmate.

Kimberly Smartt was suspended for 13 days last October after offering the nonprescription medication to Erica Taylor, a classmate. Ms. Smartt alleged in her suit that she was given a harsher punishment than Ms. Taylor--who received a nine-day suspension--because she is black.

School officials, who maintained that Ms. Smartt received a stiffer penalty because distribution of a drug is more serious than possession, said they were vindicated by the judge's decision.

But Carl Lewis, Ms. Smartt's lawyer, said he planned to pursue the matter in state court.

Partnership Seeks Extension

The Chelsea, Mass., public schools want to re-up with Boston University, which has been running them since 1989.

The partnership between the private university and the public school system drew national attention when it was formed nine years ago, but the course of the unprecedented endeavor has not always been smooth. Now, the district's elected school board, which has the authority to end the partnership, has voted in favor of extending the contract beyond the original 10 years. The extension would take the arrangement to 2003.

Boston University and the foundation it established have pumped millions of dollars into the 5,200-student district, which opened all new schools for its K-12 population last fall. Completion of the plan awaits legislative approval.

AmeriCorps on Guard Duty

To make walking to school safer for students in Denver, 65 AmeriCorps volunteers have offered their services as crossing guards. The men and women, who already volunteer in other capacities, such as tutors, in the school district, will take their posts as guards this week, said Richard Frye, a district spokesman.

A dearth of crossing guards has been cited, in part, for four traffic accidents involving schoolchildren that all occurred Jan. 28. In one incident, Aliena Rae Moore, 7, was struck and killed by a car while walking to school.

The AmeriCorps volunteers are taking part in the national-service program President Clinton initiated.

Ky. School Officials Targeted

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wilmer S. Cody has charged the Russell County schools superintendent and three members of the district's school board of violating state policies on finances and spending procedures.

The state school board will decide later this month whether to remove Superintendent Steve Towler and board members Glenna Bertram, Arles Hale, and Clifford Wilson from office. The charges include failure to reduce the district's deficit.

Mr. Towler and the board members said they plan to fight the charges.

Principal's Gun Is Taken

Two 8th graders from Centralia, Mo., were being held last week in the Boone County juvenile-detention center on charges of stealing their principal's gun from his car.

Police said the principal of Chester Boren Middle School, Philip Gooding, left a pistol in his vehicle parked in a lot across the street from the school. Mr. Gooding loaned the car to a teacher to pick up some materials last month, and two students who went along took the gun, police said. The students said that the gun was loaded, a claim the principal disputed.

Under Missouri law, a student who possesses a weapon on school property may be suspended for up to one year.

Police said no charges would be brought against Mr. Gooding. But the Centralia school board last week ordered that the principal and teacher be dealt with through the administrative disciplinary process. Mr. Gooding could not be reached for comment last week.

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