News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Admissions Policy Challenged Again At Va. Magnet School

For the second time in as many years, the Arlington, Va., school system is being sued in federal court over its use of racial preferences in admitting students to a popular magnet school.

The lawyer who prevailed last year in a lawsuit on behalf of his daughter and two other preschoolers has filed another challenge for two white girls who were denied admission to kindergarten at the Arlington Traditional School.

U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. ruled last May that the district's method of giving preference to nonwhites--who constitute a majority of the district's 18,000 students but who apply to the school in lower numbers--was unconstitutional. ("Judge Rejects Race-Based Admissions To Va. Magnets," May 21, 1997.)

This year, the district altered its policy to give preference to low-income students and those from non-English-speaking homes as well as to applicants from racial or ethnic minorities. District officials say they expect the new method to hold up in court.

But the plaintiffs contend that the policy still represents an unjustified use of race and are asking the court to require a random-lottery admissions system that treats all students equally.

School Denied Charter Sues

A proposed Dallas charter school turned down by the Texas state school board has filed a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the state's decision.

Filed in federal district court in Dallas March 27, the lawsuit claims that the state's selection process was flawed and that the Barbara C. Jordan Academy application met or exceeded the state's charter criteria.

Out of 83 applicants, 41 received charters on March 6. A panel appointed by the state board and the state schools chief scored each applicant in areas such as vision and goals, accountability, and budget.

Applicants who scored at or above the 88.43 mean score were granted a charter, according to Deborah Havens, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency's charter school division. The proposed Jordan Academy scored 87.33.

Texas currently has 19 open-enrollment charter schools granted by the state board; state law allows for 100 such schools. Applicants who did not make the March cut can try again in May, when the state reviews proposals for at-risk students.

A lawyer for the proposed K-5 Jordan Academy said the organizers think the reason for the low score was that some of the reviewers were given incomplete applications.

Ackerman To Head D.C. Schools

Arlene Ackerman will soon move from the No. 2 slot in the District of Columbia public schools to the top job, following the early resignation last month of the schools chief appointed in 1996 as part of a federal takeover of the troubled district.

Arlene Ackerman

Ms. Ackerman, the deputy superintendent and chief academic officer of the 77,000-student district since last year, will succeed retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton Jr.

The city's federally appointed financial-control board named Ms. Ackerman just one day after Mr. Becton's March 26 announcement that he intends to leave at the end of June. ("D.C. Schools Chief Announces Resignation," April 1, 1998.)

Mr. Becton recruited Ms. Ackerman to Washington from Seattle, where she served as deputy superintendent.

The 51-year-old educator has also held administrative posts in the University City school district in St. Louis.

She holds a master's degree from Harvard University and is working toward a doctorate in the university's urban superintendents' program.

Tornado Closes Town's Schools

All four of the schools in the 2,000-student St. Peter, Minn., district were closed last week after tornadoes ripped through the southern Minnesota town March 29.

Superintendent Gil Carlson said the middle and high schools, which share the same campus, suffered severe structural and water damage and won't reopen until the fall.

In the meantime, officials plan to start split shifts at the two elementary schools on April 13. Middle and high school students will attend classes on those campuses in the afternoons.

"This will be a chance for people who have never met each other to meet each other," Mr. Carlson said.

The tornadoes, which struck on a Sunday evening, killed a 6-year-old boy and an 85-year-old grain farmer.

Payback OK'd for Pa. Districts

A federal judge in Pittsburgh has approved a timetable for resolving the remaining issues in the alleged municipal-bond fraud that has affected 55 Pennsylvania school districts.

Under a plan proposed by a court trustee, the districts could recover most of the assets controlled by financial adviser John Gardner Black at the time his assets were frozen last fall.

Federal officials have accused Mr. Black and two companies he controlled of defrauding districts of some $71 million in municipal-bond proceeds through improper investments.

Some districts had other funds tied up with Mr. Black as well. Former U.S. Attorney General and Pennsylvania Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh, the court trustee, has proposed returning about $120 million to school districts.

Some districts are expected to file objections to the payout plan.

7th Grade 'Pimp' Guilty

A 7th grader in Reston, Va., was convicted of attempted pandering last week after trying to arrange sexual exchanges between boys and girls at his middle school.

The 13-year-old boy had collected $80 from six girls at Langston Hughes Middle School who thought they were joining a club, and then told several boys that he could arrange sexual encounters with the girls, according to John Murphy, the Fairfax county prosecutor in charge of the case.

But before any liaisons could be arranged, the student confessed in the principal's office while being interviewed on an unrelated theft charge.

"He said he was running a prostitution ring. He called himself a pimp and called the six girls his 'ho's,'" said Kitty Porterfield, a spokeswoman for the 147,000-student Fairfax County, Va., schools.

The principal of the 1,027-student middle school sent letters home to parents following the boy's arrest, explaining the incident and asking them to talk to their children about what constitutes appropriate conduct at school.

A sentencing hearing in the case is set for April 20 in Fairfax County juvenile court.

New Denial for Kiryas Joel

A New York state court has again rejected the state's attempts to allow a community of Hasidic Jews their own public school district. The April 2 ruling by state Supreme Court Justice Joseph C. Teresi, a trial-court judge in Albany, was the latest legal blow for the Kiryas Joel village.

Complaints by the community that its learning-disabled children were not being appropriately served by the local public schools led to passage of a 1989 state law carving out a special district for Kiryas Joel. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the measure in 1994, calling it religious favoritism.

A second law that more broadly applied to other districts, but which would have had the same effect for Kiryas Joel, was struck down by the state's highest court last year. The community plans to appeal the latest decision on a third such law, meaning it will continue to operate its own 210-student district until the issue is resolved. ("N.Y. Court Strikes Down Kiryas Joel Schools Law," May 14, 1997.)

Fatal Bus Crash in Tenn.

A school bus carrying students and chaperones from William Blount High School in Maryville, Tenn., was struck by a tractor-trailer March 26, killing one student and a teacher.

The crash occurred as the bus was bringing the group back from an academic fair at Roane State Community College in Harriman. Twenty-two students and three adults were on the bus.

The National Transportation Safety Board in Washington is investigating the accident along with the Loudon County, Tenn., district attorney's office.

The bus driver is not employed by the school district. The district contracts with the Rocky Top Tours bus company in Pigeon Forge for such service.


Ben Krentzman, a retired U.S. District Court judge who fought for the desegregation of public schools in Florida, died March 29. He was 84.

In 1970, Judge Krentzman forced then-Gov. Claude R. Kirk Jr. to allow the integration of schools in Manatee County by threatening the governor with a $10,000-a-day penalty.

He also oversaw the school desegregation efforts in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Because of his strong stand on civil rights, he often received death threats.

Judge Krentzman graduated from the University of Florida law school in 1938 and began practicing law in Clearwater, Fla. He was appointed to the federal bench by President Johnson in

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