News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Calif. State Board Rescinds Bilingual Education Policy

In a surprise action late last week, the California state board of education unanimously voted to rescind its policy requiring that limited-English-proficient students be taught in their native languages.

The board's action was in response to a petition filed in February by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative group based in Sacramento. The group said that rescinding the policy, which is not required by state statute, would give school districts more control over bilingual education.

Effective immediately, the board will no longer require waiver applications from districts asking permission to depart from the state's bilingual policy. Instead, it will consider a new policy in April that would give districts new flexibility.

California voters will still go to the polls in June to decide the fate of Proposition 227, a measure that would require more English instruction for students whose first language is not English.

S.C. Charter Denial Upheld

The Beaufort County, S.C., school board was right to reject an application for a charter school on Hilton Head Island because the school would not have met the state's requirements for racial composition, a circuit court judge has ruled.

The appeals court ruling last month reversed a decision by the state board of education that would have forced the Beaufort County school board to grant a charter to organizers of the Lighthouse Charter School. ("Racial Makeup at Issue in S.C. Charter Debate," April 30, 1997.)

Though charter school supporters could still file an appeal with the state supreme court, Beaufort County school officials hope the latest ruling will put an end to the debate over the proposed 400-student K-8 charter school, said John Williams, the communications director for the 15,000-student district.

LEP Suit Filed in Albuquerque

A group of parents filed a lawsuit last week against the Albuquerque, N.M., school district, claiming that its bilingual education program discriminates against students and denies them an equal education.

The 14 plaintiffs charge that the district violates students' civil rights by improperly placing Hispanic and Anglo students who speak only English in bilingual programs. The lawsuit also alleges that limited-English-proficient Hispanic students in bilingual education programs are segregated and denied an equal education.

The suit, filed in federal district court in Albuquerque, is backed by the Washington-based Center for Equal Opportunity and seeks to end bilingual programs. The group's president, Linda Chavez, is an outspoken critic of bilingual education.

Nearly a third of the district's 88,000 students are considered LEP. Under a 1995 agreement with federal civil rights officials, the district has moved to improve programs that serve LEP students, said district spokeswoman Jennifer Dunstan. She said the district does not discriminate against students.

New Orleans Lawsuit Rejected

The New Orleans school board last week released the names of its lowest-achieving schools, after a court threw out three state lawmakers' legal challenge to the disclosure requirement.

Democrats Naomi E. Farve, Arthur A. Morrell, and Cynthia Willard-Lewis, all of New Orleans, oppose the state school board's interpretation of a 1997 law that aims to hold school systems accountable for their performance. Arguing that the law stigmatizes poor students, the state representatives obtained a temporary restraining order on March 1 that had prevented the 85,000-student system from naming the 20 percent of its schools with the worst test scores and attendance. ("Challenge to La. Accountability Law Heads to Trial," March 11, 1998.)

But on March 9, the civil district court threw out the order, leading the 85,000-student district to announce the names of the struggling schools.

Calif. District Tries Longer Year

The Oxnard Union High School District in California is seeking nearly $4 million in state aid to continue an experiment to add 15 days to the 1997-98 school calendar.

Oxnard students will get 195 days of instruction this year, compared with the 180-day state standard. Unlike most districts, Oxnard will not use any of the eight school days allotted by the state for staff development.

The longer calendar is part of a 2-year-old pilot program that will cost $3.7 million this year. The 14,000-student district hopes the state legislature will extend the annual grant for two more years.

Fund Overpayment Settled

The Illinois Teachers Retirement System reached an agreement last week with an investment-management company that it overpaid by millions of dollars.

Pacific Investment Management Co. will reimburse $3 million that it was overpaid by the state's teacher-pension fund.

The overpayment accumulated from management fees dating back to 1993 and was due to a contract amendment that was never presented by the company's staff to its board for approval.

The Newport Beach, Calif.-based company's investments have earned over $1.3 billion for the retirement system since 1991. The fund is worth about $18 billion.

Gunfire Follows Phila. Game

Two Philadelphia universities are reconsidering hosting city basketball tournaments, following an incident in which one man was fatally shot and three were injured after a high school championship game at the University of Pennsylvania.

According to police reports, gunfire erupted on the streets outside the university arena March 1 just as the estimated 3,000 spectators emerged from the city's championship game between the Benjamin Franklin High School and Franklin Learning Center boys' basketball teams. No high school students were shot.

Although police said that the shootings had nothing to do with the game, the incident has prompted both Penn and nearby Drexel University officials to say they will rethink playing host to such events.

Drexel University spokesman Philip Terranova said safety concerns stemming from this and other violent incidents associated with the high school tournament have prompted university officials to cancel plans to host two high school basketball games March 22.

Bomb Explodes at La. School

Seven students at Denham Springs (La.) High School received minor injuries after one of their classmates detonated a homemade chemical bomb March 4.

An 18-year-old senior mixed chemicals in a bottle and brought it to school to cause a disturbance, according to police officials. With the explosion, students were doused with chemicals, the most harmful being chlorine, which caused skin irritation and damaged clothing. The fire department arrived at the 1,711-student school and treated the students.

Bradley Neihaus was charged with three counts of manufacture and possession of a delayed-action incendiary device, after police found two other bombs at the school. No court date had been set as of last week. His bond was set at $200,000.

Montana Bus Crash Fatal

Two Montana brothers died and three students were injured last week when a freight train struck their school bus.

The accident occurred on March 10 as the students traveled to school in the rural community of Hobson, according to John Baule, the superintendent of the 165-student district. The cause of the crash is under investigation, he said.

Ninth grader Ben Petersen, 15, and his brother Christopher, 13, a 7th grader, died in the accident. The three students who sustained injuries in the crash were treated at a hospital and released.

Pupil Dies After Choking

A Pennsylvania 3rd grader who swallowed a plastic pencil cap during class died March 7 at a hospital.

Jessica Lynn Scalia, 9, of Equinuck, Pa., died in the intensive-care unit at the Westchester Medical Center in New York, according to Daniel J. O'Neill, the superintendent of the 3,500-student Wayne Highlands school district.

When Jessica, a pupil at the 350-student Damascus School in Honesdale, inhaled the plastic cap March 4, she was rushed across the hall to the school nurse's office, Mr. O'Neill said. Emergency technicians were on the scene to work with the nurse within minutes, he said, but all efforts failed to dislodge the cap.

The girl eventually lost consciousness and was airlifted to a local hospital and then to the New York hospital where she died, never having regained consciousness, Mr. O'Neill said.

Jason Millman, Testing Expert, Dies

Jason Millman

Jason Millman, a testing expert and education professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., died Feb. 22 from complicaitons of Shy-Drager Syndrome, a progressive disorder of the nervous system. He was 64.

Mr. Millman was a former member of the National Assessment Governing Board, the independent body that oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

A Cornell faculty member since 1960, Mr. Millman studied standardized testing of high school and college students. He wrote on the appropriate use of the SAT and was critical of states that compared schools by using the scores.

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