News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Bilingual Services in L.A. Still Lacking, State Says

While the Los Angeles school district has made progress in improving bilingual education services for its middle and high school students, the nation's second-largest school system still has 19 schools with major problems, according to a state review released last week.

The 670,000-student district--which serves more students with limited English proficiency than any other in the nation--has retooled its bilingual education program in the wake of a highly critical state audit in 1993.

That audit pointed up a host of problems, including inadequate English-as-a-second-language courses and a paucity of qualified teachers and aides. ("L.A. Mulls Rewards for Shifting Students Out of Bilingual Ed.," May 29, 1996.)

Since 1993, the district has revamped its master plan for English learners, improved program accountability, beefed up the core curriculum for secondary LEP students, and improved staff development, last week's report found.

But by October the district must clean up problems in the 19 schools with the most serious shortcomings or face a possible cutoff of state LEP aid.

Common Ground Author Commits Suicide

J. Anthony Lukas, the author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about Boston's struggle over school desegregation during the 1960s and 1970s, committed suicide June 5 at his home in New York City. He was 64.

Common Ground, which earned Mr. Lukas the Pulitzer in 1986, chronicled the lives of three Boston families--one black, one Irish-American, and one New England Yankee--during an era of urban unrest that culminated in the city's tumultuous experience with court-ordered busing to promote racial balance in its schools.

Mr. Lukas, a veteran journalist, received his first Pulitzer Prize in 1968 for a story in The New York Times about an 18-year-old girl from an affluent Connecticut suburb who was found beaten to death in the boiler room of a drug-filled tenement in New York's East Village.

Baby Found Dead at Prom

A New Jersey senior prom turned grim this month when officials reported that an 18-year-old student had given birth in a bathroom during the event and stuffed her baby boy in the trash just minutes before hitting the dance floor with her date.

The circumstances of the widely publicized tragedy shocked Lacey Township High School in Ocean County just two weeks before graduation ceremonies scheduled for this Saturday.

Authorities said last week that they were awaiting autopsy results to help determine whether to file criminal charges against the student, who had concealed her pregnancy from her family and friends.

Efforts to resuscitate the newborn were unsuccessful after maintenance workers discovered him in the blood-splattered bathroom stall in the Monmouth County catering hall where the prom was held.

Judge Rules Against Curfew

In a case that could affect more than 100 cities in California, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled unanimously last week that San Diego's strict teenage-curfew law is unconstitutional.

The law is vague, violates minors' First Amendment rights to free speech, and infringes on parents' child-rearing rights, Judge Charles Wiggins wrote in his 20-page opinion.

The 1947 law, which the city began to enforce vigorously in 1994, made it unlawful, with few exceptions, for minors to "loiter, idle, wander, stroll, or play" in public streets and playgrounds after 10 p.m.

Six minors listed in the suit argued that the curfew prohibited them from working in homeless shelters, attending ice hockey practices, and serving on the school district board.

San Diego officials say the curfew has curbed crime. Many other cities in the state have similar curfews.

Prayer Meetings Draw Fire

A high school administrator and science teacher in central Florida are facing disciplinary action for conducting prayer meetings, baptisms, and healing sessions with students and guiding them through the process of being "saved" during school hours or at school-sponsored functions.

According to Walter Gorden, the superintendent of the 30,000-student Okaloosa County school district, Niceville High School science teacher Jack Wilson and Assistant Principal Charles Woolwine face unpaid suspensions of three to five days and other penalties for crossing the line separating church and state in public schools.

The district school board, which meets June 23, must approve any disciplinary action. Neither Mr. Woolwine nor Mr. Wilson could be reached for comment.

Buyouts Approved in Detroit

Under pressure to curb deficit spending, the Detroit school board last week approved a voluntary buyout program for about 2,500 veteran employees, including more than 600 administrators.

William Aldridge, the deputy superintendent for finance, estimates the buyouts will save about $26 million over seven years. Administrators with 15 or more years of service will be among those eligible. Teachers will not be eligible.

Mr. Aldridge expects 290 employees to opt for the plan, which will pay retirees 65 percent of one year's base pay in monthly installments for 10 years, beginning in October.

The buyout plan originally included Superintendent David L. Snead among those eligible, but the board removed him from the list when his future as superintendent became the focus of attention.

Ruling Favors Pa. Union

A U.S. District Court judge has rejected an effort to grant class action status in a lawsuit filed against the Pennsylvania State Education Association over the group's use of union dues.

Judge William Caldwell ruled June 3 that the plaintiffs will be restricted to the seven nonunion teachers who claim that the union fees they pay are being improperly used for political activities or other matters unrelated to collective bargaining.

Although nonunion teachers are required in Pennsylvania and some other states to pay fees to school employee unions for bargaining costs, the U.S. Supreme Court and local contracts say nonunion teachers are not required to contribute to political efforts. ("U.S. Supreme Court Decisions About Teachers' Union Dues," May 28, 1997.)

The judge ruled that other members of the proposed class, which would have included all nonunion teachers in the state, had not expressly objected to the fees.

Berry Processor Indicted

A federal grand jury issued a 47-count indictment last week against a San Diego food processor alleged to have fraudulently labeled Mexican strawberries as domestic products and then dispatched them to schools as part of the school lunch program.

The shipment of berries caused an outbreak of hepatitis A this spring among more than 150 schoolchildren and staff members in several Michigan schools who consumed the fruit in their strawberry desserts. The incident prompted inoculations in schools across the country. ("Hepatitis Outbreak Spurs Inoculations in 5 States," April 16, 1997.)

Phillip Halpern, an assistant U.S. attorney in San Diego, said last week that the company, Andrew & Williamson Sales Company, and its former chief executive were charged with false certification of 1.7 million pounds of strawberries. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the federal school meals program, requires that its products be domestically grown.

The company, which denies the charges, faces a $23.5 million fine if convicted on all counts, Mr. Halpern said.

GED Results Delayed

The New York education department is scrambling to catch up with a backlog of 15,000 high school equivalency tests that have not yet been graded.

The agency's office for general-equivalency diplomas, which typically provides results of the General Educational Development Tests in four to six weeks, is currently grading tests taken in March.

The department is placing a priority on tests taken by people whose jobs or college prospects depend upon their test grades, said Christopher Carpenter, a spokesman for the department.

The department fell behind in grading the exams after budget cuts last year slashed the staff responsible for the equivalency exams from 30 employees to four. Mr. Carpenter said the office has hired 11 new employees.

Cheating Incident Resolved

The Educational Testing Service has resolved a transcontinental cheating incident affecting more than 70 students from Saratoga, Calif., who took an Advanced Placement history exam last month.

On the morning of the May 9 exam, a Saratoga High School junior was given the essay questions over the phone by a friend at an American school in Singapore who had taken the test hours earlier, according to Tom Ewing, an ETS spokesman. When the Saratoga student arrived at school for a pretest study session, she shared the questions with many of her peers.

The ETS, which administers the Advanced Placement tests for the College Board, eventually caught up with the students and gave them the options of canceling their test scores, retaking the test, or allowing the Princeton, N.J.-based testing organization to project the score based on the student's performance on the multiple-choice section.

The test scores of the student who leaked the information were canceled.

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