News in Brief: A National Roundup
Mass. Students Seek Board Recall
A group of Beverly, Mass., high school seniors is conducting a petition drive to recall three members of the school board from office.
The students claim the eight-member board has mismanaged the suburban Boston district by eliminating classes, shortening the school day, and failing to repair leaky roofs and collapsing walls.
"It's just an embarrassment to the city," said Beverly High School senior Lindsay O'Connell, one of three students organizing the drive.
The students have until next week to collect signatures from 20 percent of the registered voters in each ward, for a total of about 2,000 signatures.
If the drive is successful, the board members would have five days to resign--a move that would allow them to run for re-election in November. If they did not resign within that period, they would be subject to a recall vote.
The three board members listed on the petition do not face re-election until 1999. The petition does not ask for the recall of members whose terms expire this year.
School board President Linda Goodenough, one of the members on the petition, said problems in the 5,000-student district are the result of a lack of funds in the city, not mismanagement. "We've done a pretty good job of holding together as best we could," she said.
Ms. Goodenough said she was "puzzled" by the students' charges and suspected they are personal in nature.
Ms. O'Connell disagreed. "People are having a hard time thinking we're just kids concerned about our education."
As of last week, the students had collected more than 300 signatures.
Justice Dept. Clears Way For Shift in N.Y.C. Authority
The U.S. Department of Justice announced last week that it will not stand in the way of a new state law shifting hiring power to New York City Schools Chancellor Rudy F. Crew. The law effectively strips the city's 32 community school boards of that power, including the authority to appoint superintendents. ("Crew Packs Arsenal of New Powers in N.Y.C.," Jan. 15, 1997.)
The department's civil rights division reviewed the law to determine whether it discriminated against minority voters by diluting the power of the elected school boards. The law, adopted chiefly to ensure competent and honest school leadership, does not have a discriminatory purpose or effect, Attorney General Janet Reno found.
OCR Probes LEP Neglect
The U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights has notified 20 Colorado school districts that they are not adequately addressing the needs of children with limited proficiency in English as federal law requires.
The Denver regional office of the OCR found a variety of problems, including an insufficient amount of special instruction for students, poorly implemented plans, a failure to identify students, and inadequate training of teachers.
Two of the reviews were prompted by complaints; the federal office initiated the others. All of the districts have formulated or are formulating plans to correct the violations, said Lillian Gutierrez, the OCR's regional director.
The OCR is still reviewing practices in the Denver district, she said.
Chicago To Charge It
Principals at 55 Chicago public schools and several district administrators will start using credit cards in July to buy items that cost less than $500. The cards will save them from filling out time-consuming purchase orders.
The school board expects to expand the pilot credit card program to all 557 city schools by January.
From last September to this January, the 422,000-student district used 44,000 small purchase orders, most of which could have been avoided with a credit card, said Diane Minor, the district's chief purchasing officer.
Using credit cards will create a paper trail that will help the district keep track of expenses, she added. The cards may be used to buy supplies, textbooks, and stamps. They will not be accepted by unauthorized vendors. Ms. Minor said that the credit card does not carry an interest rate and that purchases will be paid off monthly.
N.H. Baptist School Probed
For the first time, the New Hampshire state school board has ordered an investigation into a religious school that failed to comply with the state's approval process for private schools.
The Rev. Paul Norwalt, the founder of the Merrimack Baptist Temple School, has not filed the necessary student-attendance and building-safety information since the school opened in 1995, said state education officials who authorized the probe last month.
Consequently, parents who have enrolled their children in the school are in violation of state truancy laws, officials said. ("Parents, Private School in Truancy Tug of War," Aug. 7, 1996.)
Mr. Norwalt founded the school at his Baptist church in Merrimack after unsuccessfully lobbying the Merrimack district to teach creationism. Citing protection under the state constitution, Mr. Norwalt said that he is under no obligation to seek state approval of a private school.
Desegregation Case Retired
A federal judge in Mobile, Ala., has dismissed that school system's desegregation case 34 years to the day after the case was filed.
Observers said that it was unusual for both plaintiffs and defendants in the case to call for its termination, including the lawyers for black students, the Mobile County school board, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
In his ruling last month, U.S. Senior District Judge W. Brevard Hand said that the dismissal of the case "is not only fair, adequate, and reasonable, but in the very best interests of the plaintiffs' case as a whole."
Since a 1989 consent decree, officials in the 65,000-student district have set up magnet schools and spent $18 million on construction and renovation projects, said Robert Campbell, the lawyer for the school board. But some local black leaders were considering an appeal last month.
Paper Roll Crushes Ga. Girl
A 4th grade girl from Midway, Ga., was killed when an 8-foot roll of art paper fell on top of her at school.
Christina Aliffi, 10, went to the storage room of Liberty Elementary School with another student after her teacher asked her to return a small roll of art paper last month. Liberty County Sheriff Don Martin said the student's death was the result of a freak accident that happened after the two girls began playing with a larger, 233-pound roll. The paper crushed Christina after she said, "I'll catch it," Mr. Martin said.
Algebra I Troubles Texas
Just 17 percent of the 22,932 students who took the Algebra I end-of-course test last fall passed, a big drop from last spring, when 28 percent of 226,348 test-takers passed the exam.
State officials said that the students who took the fall test either failed Algebra I before or took it as a nontraditional one-, three-, or four-semester class. Algebra I is usually a two-semester course.
State officials were more pleased with the 68 percent pass rate of the 27,966 students who took the Biology I end-of-course exam--an improvement of 6 percentage points over fall 1995 results.
Beginning in 1998-99, students will be able to replace the state exit exam with end-of-course exams in order to graduate.
Allergy Death Claim Settled
A Wisconsin district has agreed to pay $131,000 to the family of a 1st grader who died after eating a fish lunch at school.
The Kenosha Unified School District last month reached an out-of-court settlement with the family of 6-year-old Alex Handy, who died in 1995 after an allergic reaction to a fish sandwich served by the school cafeteria. His mother maintained in a lawsuit that she packed a bag lunch that day and wrote a note warning teachers not to serve her son fish.
District officials said that they have reviewed medical procedures with the local health department and have provided training to staff members.
'Sesame Street' Producer Dies
Jon Stone, an award-winning producer, writer, and director for "Sesame Street," died last week in New York City at the age of 65.
Mr. Stone was with the popular educational television program from its inception in 1968. He created the format, setting, and many of the characters for the innovative show, according to Children's Television Workshop officials. In collaboration with the late puppeteer Jim Henson, he invented the beloved Big Bird and the Cookie Monster.
He was the executive producer of the series for many years and wrote related children's books that sold millions of copies.