News in Brief: A National Roundup

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GAO Says FCC May Have Erred In Establishing E-Rate Agency

As schools around the country begin applying for federally mandated "E-rate" discounts on telecommunications services, the creation of the nonprofit corporation that oversees the program has been called into question.

The Federal Communications Commission lacked the authority to create the corporation, which administers the rate breaks available to schools and libraries, a report prepared by the U.S. General Accounting Office concludes.

The office, which conducts studies for members of Congress, said the FCC violated the Government Corporation Control Act "when it directed the National Exchange Carriers Association Inc. to create the Schools and Libraries Corp. and the Rural Health Care Corp.," which administers a similar discount program for rural health centers.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, had requested the report, which has been hailed by several members of Congress who are critical of the FCC's oversight of the 1996 telecommunications-reform law. That law called for the education-rate discounts. Schools could receive a total of $2.25 billion in discounts on telecommunications services and equipment this year.

An FCC spokeswoman said that the matter raised by the gao report, which was released on Feb. 11, was a legal issue that "will ultimately be resolved" and added that the "important matter is to move forward" on universal service.

A Senate subcommittee plans to hold a hearing on the report Feb. 25, and legislators expect to hear from FCC officials on their plan of action.

Calif. School Bans Hugs

Students at Nicholas Junior High School in Fullerton, Calif., are not cuddling up to the idea of a schoolwide ban on hugging.

Administrators at the 967-student school are putting the squeeze on students who hug or engage in any other public displays of affection.

Last month, interim Principal Tammy Brown reinstated the policy, which was adopted nearly seven years ago but had never been actively enforced.

As of last week, no students had been suspended or expelled for engaging in public embraces. But students did appear at the district school board's meeting last week to make their unhappiness with the rule known.

"Each principal is allowed to create such policy on student behavior," a spokeswoman for the 12,200-district said.

$15 Million Plan in Newark

A Newark, N.J., high school and its feeder schools will benefit from a privately financed, $15 million program aimed at getting students ready for college and then helping pay their way once they get there.

Project GRAD, or Graduation Really Achieves Dreams, announced last week, will offer students at Malcolm X Shabazz High School up to $6,000 over four years for college, provided they meet certain academic requirements. Project GRAD will also train educators to implement research-based programs to improve achievement, particularly in reading and math, at all grade levels in the participating schools.

The Ford Foundation in New York City and the Lucent Technologies Foundation, based in Murray Hill, N.J., will each provide $5 million and have pledged to raise the remaining $5 million from other private sources.

The Newark effort will be modeled on one of the same name in Houston that has shown promising gains in student performance since it began in 1993. That program, the brainchild of retired Houston business executive James L. Ketelson, is operating in 25 inner-city schools and is poised to expand to additional Houston schools in the coming year.

Sacramento Aims High

The Sacramento school district is launching a reform plan that calls for 90 percent of its students to meet math and reading standards and graduate from high school on time.

The 37-page plan adopted by the school board this month also states that by 2001, all children will learn to speak fluent English in five years, attend school 95 percent of the time, and be prepared for kindergarten.

Fewer than 40 percent of the district's 50,000 students now meet academic standards. More than 25 percent of the class of 1995 did not graduate.

To help meet the goals, the district plans to adopt content and performance standards for students and give schools more authority over spending and staff development.

Reporter Detained at School

District officials in Las Vegas are investigating an incident in which a school police officer handcuffed and detained a television news reporter who was standing on public property trying to interview students.

Some facts of the Feb. 11 incident are in dispute, Ray Willis, a spokesman for the 191,000-student Clark County district, said last week. But an unidentified security officer at Valley High School apparently warned the television reporter she would be arrested for loitering if she did not leave the sidewalk in front of the school.

"The district's stance is to be open with the media," Mr. Willis said. The school police officer might have failed to follow procedure by not checking with his superiors about what to do, the spokesman said.

Brenda Stanton, a reporter for KVBC-TV, had been interviewing students about teenage pregnancy. She reportedly stepped onto the street briefly before going back on the sidewalk, which station officials later said they considered to be public property.

The officer then handcuffed Ms. Stanton and told her she was under arrest. She was released after a few minutes, Mr. Willis said. Officials at KVBC-TV could not be reached for comment last week.

Conviction in Alaska Slaying

Almost a year after the school principal and a student were shot to death when a student opened fire at Bethel High School in western Alaska, 17-year-old Evan Ramsey was convicted Feb. 6 of two counts of murder for the killings.

After being moved out of Bethel, the trial took place in the town of Dillingham, about 300 miles west of Anchorage. The prosecution said Mr. Ramsey indicated his intention to kill others in letters found after the Feb. 19, 1997, shooting spree.

In addition to the murders of Principal Ron Edwards and the student, Josh Palacios, Mr. Ramsey was found guilty of one count of attempted murder and 15 counts of assault. He faces life in prison when he is sentenced in June.

To mark the anniversary of the shootings, the high school sponsored activities including a candlelight vigil, a memorial service, and a community dinner.

"This has been an ongoing healing process," said Ron Magee, the current principal of the 450-student school.

Ex-Student Guilty in St. Louis

A St. Louis jury has convicted an 18-year-old former student in the 1995 rape and murder of a freshman girl in a restroom at McCluer North High School in Florrisant, Mo.

Michael Taylor, who transferred to McCluer North just one day before the Jan. 24, 1995, murder of 15-year-old Christine Smetzer, was convicted Feb. 14 of first-degree murder and rape. He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole for the murder conviction.

Mr. Taylor had a record of behavioral problems and had been placed at McCluer North just weeks after he had hidden in a girls' restroom at another school, said Carrie Costantin, who prosecuted the case for the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney's office.

The killing prompted Missouri lawmakers to pass a law requiring students' violent-behavior records to follow them from school to school and district to district.

Officials Agree to Memorial

For the first time in at least 14 years, the Park Senior High School yearbook in Minnesota will include a remembrance to classmates who have died.

Administrators at the school in the St. Paul suburb of Cottage Grove made an exception to a longstanding policy forbidding yearbook remembrances after friends of the dead students--one killed in an automobile accident and one by suicide--led about 400 of their peers to walk out Feb. 11 in protest of the ban.

After negotiations that included the parents of the two deceased students, administrators at the 1,750-student school agreed to a page in the yearbook with pictures of the students and some poetry.

Principal Walt Lyszak acknowledged he had "lingering doubts" about the effects of the memorial on teenagers at risk of suicide, which was the reason for the ban in the first place. He said, however, that the agreement was a good compromise and that the policy would be revisited.

Hostage Situation in Utah

A Syracuse, Utah, youth turned lunch period into a hostage situation for about 400 students at a junior high school there this month.

The 14-year-old student entered the cafeteria at Syracuse Junior High School with a gun during the Feb. 4 lunch hour, demanded that everyone get down, and fired three rounds into the ceiling. No one was injured.

The student then asked for a car to take him to Mexico, said Syracuse Police Chief Brian Wallace. Police surrounded the school, and a SWAT-team member apprehended the youth as he tried to leave.

He was charged with aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, and terroristic threat. An arraignment had not yet been scheduled.

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