News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Flood Uproots N.D. Students

North Dakota state Superintendent Wayne G. Sanstead last week urged all of the states school districts to accept students who have been displaced by flooding in the Red River Valley.

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About 50 districts in the eastern part of the state--comprising one-tenth of North Dakota's 118,500 students--have either had to evacuate their schools completely or relocate some of their students to other districts.

The 10,000 students in the Grand Forks district likely will finish out the school year elsewhere, Mr. Sanstead said. Only one of the district's 17 schools was not under water.

"It's unprecedented," the superintendent said. "Those poor folks have just been shelled."

Some displaced teachers have offered to teach in the receiving districts to handle the increased class sizes. Fortunately, Mr. Sanstead added, about three-fourths of the state's districts have extra room.

"The schools are doing a fine job of trying to maintain normal schedules," he said.

Efforts are being made to provide students with counseling services to help them cope with the disaster. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released commodities for feeding the displaced students, allowing districts to serve them at no charge without having to fill out applications for free and reduced-price lunches.

L.A. Board Moving Forward on $87 Million High School

The Los Angeles school board has chosen a developer to build what could be the nation's most expensive high school.

The school board voted 4-3 last week to approve a contract with a development team led by Kajima International Inc., based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., to oversee construction of the $87 million Belmont Learning Complex in downtown Los Angeles. The board failed to decide, however, whether the 5,400-student school would be financed out of the $2.4 billion bond issue approved by voters April 8. ("Voters Approve $2.4 Billion in Bonds for L.A.," April 16, 1997.)

Before the board meeting, the Los Angeles teachers' union and disgruntled workers from a hotel owned by Kajima's parent company failed to obtain a court order blocking the vote. The groups argued that the school district violated laws on competitive bidding in selecting Kajima.

The board is scheduled to vote on how to pay for the school on June 16 after the project is reviewed by a watchdog group overseeing bond proceeds.

S.F. Raises Requirements

The San Francisco school board voted unanimously last week to demand a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum from all of its students.

Beginning with students entering the 9th grade next fall, high schoolers will have to take a minimum of three years each of college-preparatory laboratory science and mathematics. That is an increase of one year over state graduation requirements. The district's requirements for visual and performing arts and foreign-language coursework also will increase, from one year to two.

Fired Principal Clears Hurdle

A federal judge in Alabama has ruled that he will not prevent a principal who was fired in a racially charged controversy three years ago from taking office as an elected district superintendent.

But U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson said in an April 11 bench ruling that Hulond Humphries had intentionally violated the terms of a 1995 decree ordering him to stay off campuses of the 2,300-student Randolph County district during school hours. ("Accord Bars Ala. Educator From School Grounds," Jan. 18, 1995.)

A group of black parents and students had sought to keep Mr. Humphries, who is white, from assuming the superintendent's post on July 1.

Mr. Humphries was reassigned from his job as principal of the district's high school in 1994 after he sought to bar interracial couples from the school prom. Despite the resulting furor, he was elected superintendent last year.

Catholic Teachers Lose Ruling

Pennsylvania Catholic school teachers seeking their state labor board's protection suffered a major defeat last week when the state supreme court ruled that they are not considered "public employees."

The decision settled a 4-year-old dispute that began when two teachers claimed they were fired for trying to form a union at Philadelphia's Norwood-Fontbonne Academy, an independent Roman Catholic elementary school. ("Teachers in Pa. Catholic Schools Seek Board's Aid," Feb. 5, 1997.)

The court interpreted the state's Public Employee Relations Act to mean that Catholic school teachers are not included among those groups over which the labor board has jurisdiction. To rule otherwise, the court reasoned, could create unconstitutional church-state entanglements.

Mo. Official Won't Intervene

Missouri Commissioner of Education Robert E. Bartman has declined the request of a federal judge to assume control of the Kansas City school district, setting the stage for a court-appointed special master to take the reins instead.

Mr. Bartman said he lacked the time to provide the day-to-day oversight requested by U.S. District Judge Russell G. Clark in the judge's final ruling in the city's 20-year-old desegregation case last month. ("Judge Decides State Funds for Desegregation To End in K.C.," April 2, 1997.)

In that ruling, Judge Clark approved a deal that will allow the state to phase out its sizable subsidy of the 37,000-student district's desegregation program after the 1998-99 school year.

U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple this month asked the parties in the case to suggest alternative candidates to serve as a special master for the city.

N.J. Voucher Plan in Trouble

Residents of a New Jersey school district where a voucher proposal has drawn nationwide attention have shown their opposition to the plan by electing three school board members who say they will vote to scrap it.

The Lincoln Park board had voted in February to start a voucher plan that would have provided at least $1,000 to students attending any private or public high school. ("N.J. District Proposes Vouchers for High Schoolers," Feb. 12, 1997.) The 1,275-student Lincoln Park district currently sends its high school students to a nearby district.

As a result of the April 15 election, in which two pro-voucher incumbents were ousted, opponents of the plan will have a majority on the nine-member board.

State officials had warned the Lincoln Park board earlier this month that state law does not authorize a voucher program. But the board then voted to try to start the program using private funds.

Ga. District Stuck With Tab

The DeKalb County, Ga., school district can't bill the state for $34 million in desegregation costs, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The April 7 decision overturned a 1995 district court ruling that the state owes the DeKalb schools for the cost of busing magnet school students between 1986 and 1994, said Alfred A. Lindseth, the lawyer representing the school district. The lower court ruled that the state improperly calculated those transportation costs, Mr. Lindseth said.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit threw out that argument on the basis of the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, said Georgia Attorney General Michael J. Bowers. The amendment gives states immunity against certain lawsuits.

Last year, a federal judge officially ended court oversight of the 90,000-student district outside Atlanta, saying the district had fulfilled its responsibilities to remedy past racial discrimination.

Principal, Teacher Suspended

District of Columbia school officials have taken disciplinary action against a teacher and the principal at an elementary school where nine unsupervised 4th graders allegedly engaged in sexual activity in an empty classroom.

Principal Ronald Parker and teacher Charles Mayo of Winston Educational Center have been suspended without pay for the remainder of the school year. School administrators are continuing to investigate the April 7 incident, said Loretta Hardge, a district spokeswoman.

Scholarship Rules Criticized

A federal appeals court ruled unanimously last week that the scholarship criteria used by Mississippi's predominantly white public universities may perpetuate the effects of segregation.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that the use of ACT college-admissions-test scores to determine eligibility for some scholarships unfairly restricted black students' access to those schools.

The April 23 ruling came as part of ongoing litigation on the issue of whether Mississippi has rid its public higher education system of the effects of segregation. ("Desegregation Ruling Seen Spurring Calls To Close Black Colleges," Feb. 3, 1993.) Plaintiffs, including black citizens and the U.S. Department of Justice, had asked the appeals court to overturn parts of a 1995 U.S. District Court ruling on the matter.

The appeals court turned down the plaintiffs' request to order changes in admissions policies at the state's predominantly white universities.

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