News in Brief: A National Roundup

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N.J. 10th Grader Charged In Slaying of Classmate

A 10th grader from Cumberland County, N.J., was charged last week with beating to death a female classmate in the boys' locker room of their high school shortly after the victim had finished track practice.

The slaying of Nielsa Mason, 16, traumatized Cumberland Regional High School in Upper Deerfield Township, where she was a well-liked member of the track and basketball squads.

"You have one poor soul who's died, and you've got another student in the school who's suspect, so it's a double tragedy," said Robert L. Bumpus, the principal of the 1,242-student school.

Police described the 16-year-old suspect, whom they refused to identify because of his age, as a casual acquaintance of the girl. They declined to comment on possible motives.

A janitor found the 10th grader's body in the locker room at about 9 p.m. on April 28, about 90 minutes after her parents reported her missing. The suspect was arrested and charged with murder the following night.

The school closed the day after the killing, but reopened the next day. Local clergy members and counselors held sessions for students throughout the week, Mr. Bumpus said.

Secret Meetings Draw Fine

A Rhode Island judge has fined three local school board members for violating the state's Open Meetings Act.

Superior Court Judge Patricia Hurst ruled last month that Barrington school board members Martha Scavongelli and Patricia O'Connor, along with former member Ronni Phipps, failed to announce publicly four committee meetings last year. The three sat on a 17-member committee that the full school board created to study construction needs in the 3,000-student district.

The judge fined each of the three $300, the first time the state has fined public officials for "willful violation" of the Open Meetings Act, according to the Rhode Island attorney general's office.

Robert Sullivan, a lawyer for the three board members, had argued that they believed the act did not apply to their committee.

Baltimore Chief Leaving

The outgoing superintendent of the Baltimore public schools has accepted a job with Educational Training & Communications, an educational technology company in Washington.

Walter G. Amprey said in an interview last week that he will officially become the company's national vice president for urban education on July 1. The company is owned by cable-television giant Tele-Communications Inc.

Mr. Amprey, who has been Baltimore's superintendent since August 1991, said he will receive his $140,000 annual school salary for another year as well as an estimated $110,000 in benefits under his contract, which is slated to end July 1998.

The impending restructuring of the 110,000-student district, in which the schools will yield more control to the state in exchange for increased aid, prompted Mr. Amprey's early departure. ("HEADLINE," April 16, 1997.)

Ethnic Symbols Allowed

One year after the graduation ceremony at an Oklahoma high school was marred by a flap over student attire, the superintendent of the Muskogee schools says he's worked out an accommodation with students to prevent a recurrence.

Three Muskogee High School seniors were suspended and denied their diplomas last year because they wore ethnic symbols during the ceremony. One American Indian student wore an eagle feather in her mortarboard and two black students wore multicolored African-style Kente cloths over their gowns.

Neil Nuttall, the district superintendent, said he and a committee of students agreed that Kente cloths, crosses, or other symbols could be worn under the graduation gown "as an ascot" until late in the May 24 ceremony, when they could be displayed over the gowns.

The students also have adopted a multicolored cord for student leaders to wear over their gowns to represent cultural diversity.

Lawsuit Seeks 'Redshirting'

A West Monroe, La., parent has filed suit against the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, challenging the organization's ban on allowing students to repeat grades for athletic reasons.

The April 16 suit, filed in Monroe's U.S. District Court, argues that Charlie Hood Jr. has the constitutional right to let his son, a 6th grade student at Kiroli Elementary School, repeat the grade. Committing time to physical development now, according to the suit, could translate into future athletic scholarships and the opportunity to attend college.

Ouachita Parish school board President Jack White, who supports the association's ban, said that holding back, or "redshirting," students for athletic reasons would cause classroom overcrowding in the 17,000-student parish and generate complaints about wasted tax dollars.

Principals of the association's member schools voted in January to eliminate statewide the redshirting of junior high school students.

Boston Subs Want Own Union

A group of Boston substitute teachers has taken a step toward breaking away from the Boston Teachers Union, which has represented them for 15 years.

By the end of March, the substitutes had collected about 140 signatures of dues-paying union members on a petition that calls for a new union independent of the teachers, prompting the state Labor Relations Commission to schedule a hearing on the matter by early next month.

The substitutes say the 6,000-member teachers' union has not done enough to raise their pay or improve their benefits. They are seeking to boost starting pay for substitutes hired on a daily basis from $83 to $170, the equivalent of base full-time teachers' pay.

Student Killed by Discus

A high school athlete in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., died after accidentally being hit in the back of the head by a discus thrown by a competitor at an April 22 track meet.

According to Jon Knickerbocker, the deputy superintendent for the 9,111-student Palos Verdes school district, Craig Kelford III, a sophomore at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, was walking toward some teammates on Peninsula's campus when a North High School athlete who was warming up for competition threw his 2.2-pound aluminum discus, unintentionally hitting Mr. Kelford and fracturing his skull.

The 16-year-old instantly collapsed and was rushed to Torrance Memorial Medical Center, where he died April 23.

The name of the North High School athlete was not released. Mr. Knickerbocker said school administrators and the California Interscholastic Federation were investigating the incident.

Drug Counselor Fired

A school employee hired by the Spokane, Wash., public schools to counsel students against using drugs and alcohol was fired after her husband was convicted of growing marijuana plants in their home.

Board members voted to terminate Janet Price's employment last month because they said it was implausible that she would be unaware that 99 marijuana plants were growing in her cellar.

"Normally what a person does in their personal life is their own business, but in this situation--when it's closely related to her position in the school--we couldn't trust that she could work with students," said Mark Anderson, an assistant superintendent for the 32,000-student district.

But Ms. Price's lawyer, Carl Oreskovich, said in an interview last week that the board's action was unfair and amounted to guilt by association.

Ms. Price is planning to appeal the board's ruling.

System Serving Safer Franks

New York City school students may have noticed a slight difference in the hot dogs they've been getting for lunch lately.

In response to the death last year of a 3rd grader who choked on a frank, the district last month began serving hot dogs that are narrower and 2 inches longer than their predecessors.

The new, 7-inch frank contains the same amount of beef as the shorter version.

An investigation into the choking incident cleared P.S. 109 and its staff in the February 1996 death of 8-year-old Ciara Santiago.

The system serves 7 million hot dogs each year, said David Golub, a school district spokesman.

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