News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Catholic School Must Hold Talks With Union, Court Rules

A Roman Catholic high school cannot invoke the U.S. Constitution's religion clauses to avoid collective bargaining with a teachers' union, New York state's highest court has ruled.

The New York Court of Appeals ruled unanimously June 12 that the state Employment Relations Board has the power to require Christ the King Regional High School in New York City to bargain in good faith with the union.

The school has been in a labor dispute with unionized employees since 1981, when it fired teachers and other workers who went on strike after a breakdown in contract negotiations. The state labor board ordered the school to reinstate striking workers and return to the bargaining table.

The school argued in court that the First Amendment's guarantee of free exercise of religion and prohibition of government establishment of religion barred the state from regulating the school's labor relations.

The state high court said New York's labor-relations law requires all employers to engage in good-faith collective bargaining.

Race-Based Policies Ending

The DeSoto County, Miss., school board voted unanimously last week to phase out the race-conscious policies governing student elections and extracurricular activities at Hernando High School.

The district is under investigation by the U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights and has received intense local and national criticism since parents and students complained this spring about the high school's election procedures, which include racial qualifications for some offices. ("Dual-Race Policy at Miss. School Target of Student, Parent Protests," June 4, 1997.)

Beginning this fall, Hernando High School will not impose any "racial restrictions or conditions" on extracurricular or co-curricular activities, Superintendent Jerry Baird said in a statement approved by the board.

Students elected to offices this spring will be allowed to serve out their terms. For the 1998-99 school year, the high school will use a race-neutral election procedure, the superintendent said.

Rodger Murphey, a spokesman for the office for civil rights, said the investigation is ongoing.

Charter Denied; Provost Quits

The faculty of the University of California, San Diego, has voted against establishing a university-based charter high school, prompting the resignation of the provost at one of the university's colleges.

The proposal had called for an intensive college-preparatory school for low-income, low-performing students who demonstrated potential for academic achievement. It was intended to increase the number of students eligible for the University of California system.

Faculty members who opposed the proposed $2.4 million, 240-student charter school said it would have produced only eight to 12 additional UC-eligible students per year. They called for K-12 partnership efforts that would help more students instead.

Following the 362-293 faculty vote, Cecil Lytle, the provost of UCSD's Thurgood Marshall College and an architect of the proposal, submitted his resignation. The UCSD chancellor has asked him to reconsider, according to a university spokeswoman.

A task force of the UC system last month called for the nine UC campuses to expand their outreach efforts in K-12 schools. ("Higher Ed. Outreach Plan Targets At-Risk Calif. Youths," June 4, 1997.)

Ill. Students Rate Highly

A group of northern Illinois school districts has again outstripped most of the international competition in a study of math and science achievement.

The 4th graders in the 20-district consortium who participated in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study ranked first in the world in science, a spot shared statistically with Korea. The students placed second internationally in math, in a statistical tie with four other countries, and behind only Singapore.

Overall, American 4th graders scored behind only Korea in science and above the international average in math. ("4th Graders Do Well in Math, Science Study," June 18, 1997.)

The Illinois 4th graders' performance is virtually identical to the earlier strong showing of the 8th graders in the largely affluent districts, most of which are in suburban Chicago. The scores of middle schoolers there also gave them a first-place finish in science and a second-place ranking in math. ("Clinton, Test Scores Put Ill. Consortium on the Map," Jan. 29, 1997.)

Mass. OKs History Standards

Months of heated debate in Massachusetts over academic standards for history and social sciences ended last week when the state school board approved the latest of more than half a dozen proposed frameworks in the subject. ("With Vote Set, Mass. Board Still at Odds Over History Standards," June 11, 1997.)

Despite criticism that the economics portion was not rigorous enough, and that U.S. history deserved a greater role in the 9th and 10th grade curriculum, the board voted 6-3 in favor of the framework.

Board Chairman John R. Silber, who barred a vote on an earlier draft in April, supported the approved version.

Frameworks in the other core subjects have already been approved.

School Devastated by Vandals

Vandals recently caused so much damage to a new Las Vegas middle school that the facility may not be able to open on time this fall.

Clark County school district officials said last week they still don't know who broke through walls, destroyed lockers, and severely damaged the entranceway to the Lied Middle School on the night of June 12. Slated to open in August, the school suffered $250,000 in damage.

Designed to hold 1,800 students grades 6-8, Lied is one of 11 new schools in the fast-growing Clark County district, which this year served 180,000 students.

Officials are investigating whether the vandalism could have been committed by one or more disgruntled construction workers, district spokesman Ray Willis said. During the crime, the vandals drove a small front loader at the construction site through part of the unfinished building.

D.C. Admits Violations

District of Columbia school officials have admitted to breaches of federal law in special education services, and they want the U.S. Department of Education to help them fix the system.

The financially strapped Washington schools could lose more than $3 million in federal aid if they do not correct the violations, which range from a backlog of student evaluations to a lack of standards for staff performance. The infractions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act were found during routine monitoring last year.

Last week, school officials presented their strategies for improving services for the system's more than 7,000 special education students. The plan they outlined would include reassigning staff members based on workloads, improving personnel training, contracting out assessment services, and upgrading information systems and reporting.

The agreement, if approved, would allow the system to "buy time" to come under compliance with the federal law, said Jim Bradshaw, an Education Department spokesman. Compliance agreements typically last three years, and the department will decide later this summer whether to accept the school district's plan.

Ex-Secretary of N.Y.C. Board Dies

Bruce K. Gelbard, a former secretary to the New York City board of education who was sometimes referred to as the board's eighth member, died June 14 of heart trouble at the age of 45.

Described by allies as brilliant and by critics as overreaching, he came to enjoy formidable behind-the-scenes clout after rising to board secretary in 1989.

His 22-year career in the school system came to an abrupt end last July, after he became enmeshed in a power struggle involving Chancellor Rudy F. Crew, who saw him as an obstacle to bureaucratic reform, and former board President Carol A. Gresser, one of Mr. Gelbard's chief backers.

Soon after toppling Ms. Gresser from the presidency, current board chief William C. Thompson, an ally of Mr. Crew's, engineered Mr. Gelbard's ouster by the board.

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