News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Fla. Judge Permits Half Of Bible-History Course

A federal judge last week allowed the Lee County, Fla., district to begin the Old Testament portion of its much-debated Bible-history curriculum.

But the judge barred the district from using materials from the Greensboro, N.C.-based National Council on Bible Curriculum as the basis for the New Testament portion of its course.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich of Tampa, Fla., said the Lee County school board should have listened to the advice of its lawyers, who had argued that the New Testament curriculum would likely run afoul of the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against government establishment of religion. ("Lawsuit Challenges Bible-History Curriculum," Jan. 14, 1998.)

"This court ... finds it difficult to conceive how the [New Testament] account of the resurrection or of miracles could be taught as secular history," the judge said in a 20-page ruling.

But the judge declined to issue an injunction barring the Old Testament classes from beginning as scheduled last week.

She authorized the challengers of the Bible-history curriculum to videotape classroom sessions and report back to her on any attempts by teachers to indoctrinate students with religion.

Calif. Groups To Collaborate

Two groups with differing philosophies on how to teach science will collaborate on California's content standards in the subject.

The commission charged with developing the state's first-ever content standards voted 12-0, with two abstentions, this month to award the standards-writing contract for science to both groups.

The contract went to both the Associated Scientists, a group based at California State University-Northridge that favors a traditional, content-based method of teaching the subject, and the Institute for Science Education at California State University-San Bernardino, which favors a hands-on emphasis. ("Scientists Protest Exclusion From Standards Writing," Nov. 26, 1997.)

The Associated Scientists, headed by three Nobel Prize-winning scientists, had filed a formal appeal with the state last fall after its proposal to write the standards was rejected.

Last month, the standards commission said it erred in its evaluation of the proposals and reversed an earlier decision to hire only the science educators from the San Bernardino campus.

Texas School Loses Charter

A Texas charter school has surrendered its charter to the state, after the school failed to open its doors last fall.

The school's organizers are negotiating a plan with the Texas Education Agency and the state attorney general's office to repay the $240,000 in state aid that the school has received since 1996, when the state school board first approved its creation, according to TEA spokesman Joey Lozano.

Of the state's 19 charter schools, this was the first that failed to open after being approved.

The Cypress Youth Lodge Charter for at-risk students was slated to open this past fall, but the state granted school organizers numerous extensions because they faced logistical obstacles, such as finding a suitable site in the Dallas area.

The state stopped making aid payments to the school last summer, when it became clear it would not open on time.

As a result of the experience, the state said it will tighten its financial procedures for charter schools.

Ky. Student Arraigned

A Kentucky circuit court judge entered a not guilty plea this month for the 14-year-old accused of opening fire on his classmates, killing three and wounding five others at Heath High School in West Paducah on Dec. 1. ("In the Wake of Tragedy," Dec. 10, 1997.)

Michael Carneal did not speak during his Jan. 15 arraignment, so the judge entered the pleas of not guilty to charges of murder, attempted murder, and burglary.

Michael Carneal

The burglary charge stems from the alleged use of a stolen pistol in the shootings.

The youth faces life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years on each of the murder charges.

The attempted-murder charges and burglary charge each carry a possible sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison.

Charter School Principal Fired

A District of Columbia charter school that made headlines in 1996 when its principal and three staff members attacked a reporter and two police officers has fired those employees.

The dismissals were prompted by a recent internal audit that raised questions of mismanagement by Principal Mary A.T. Anigbo and the other employees, said Edward D. Sargent, a spokesman for the school's board of trustees.

Washington's board of education, which has little say in the Marcus Garvey Public Charter School's daily operations, decided not to revoke its charter in November.

Board President Under Fire

The new president of the Atlanta school board is the subject of a state probe into allegations that he improperly charged travel expenses to both the school system and the university where he works, according to Steve Edwards, an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Atlanta reporters discovered alleged discrepancies in the expense reports that Norman Johnson submitted to both the school system and his full-time employer, the Georgia Institute of Technology university, where he is a special assistant to the provost and teaches two courses. Gov. Zell Miller asked the GBI to investigate the reports.

Mr. Johnson has denied any wrongdoing and has said he would repay the money if he made any mistakes. During his first term, he spent close to $44,000 on trips that he says were necessary to learn about school reform.

Mr. Johnson, who was re-elected to his second four-year term in November, became its president this month.

Calif. Settlement Reached

Two private firms have agreed to pay $14 million to settle a class action involving some 20,000 California teachers and $100 million in lost investments.

The suit alleged that auditors from KPMG Peat Marwick, based in New York City, covered up the shaky financial standing of the Teacher Management & Investment Corp. of Newport Beach, Calif., which had invested millions of dollars for the teachers before becoming insolvent in 1994.

KPMG Peat Marwick will pay about $10 million in the settlement. Another defendant, Comerica Inc., a Detroit-based banking company, will pay more than $4 million. Both firms deny any wrongdoing. A court is expected to agree on a process next month for distributing the funds.

Risk Seen in Early Drinking

Young people who start drinking alcohol before age 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics than those who begin drinking at age 21, according to a recent study.

In the report, released this month by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda, Md., researchers drew from interviews with more than 27,000 current and former drinkers conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1992.

Considered to be the first to demonstrate a connection between the onset of drinking and a risk of alcohol abuse later in life, the report found that 40 percent of those interviewees who began imbibing liquor at age 15 developed alcoholism. By comparison, 25 percent of those interviewed who began drinking at age 17 and 10 percent of those who started drinking at age 21 developed alcohol dependence during their lifetimes.

N.C.'s High Stakes Targeted

A principal in Winston-Salem, N.C., has filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education over the state's new accountability program, which rewards or penalizes schools based on students' performances on state tests.

Larry D. Fields, the principal of Latham Elementary School, contends that the program is unfair to the schools that face the most challenges. Most of the school's 430 students are members of minorities and come from needy families. The school earned satisfactory grades last year in math and reading, but did not meet state proficiency requirements in writing.

State officials can assign monitoring teams and suspend principals at low-performing schools. ("N.C. Gets First School-by-School Performance Results," Sept. 3, 1997.)

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