News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Atlanta Board Settles Suit Over Minority Contracts

The Atlanta school board has agreed to a two-year ban on mandatory goals for awarding district contracts to minority businesses, putting to rest a federal lawsuit. The suit attacked a 6-year-old program, revamped last year, that gave the superintendent the authority to set such goals if he found discriminatory practices.

The nine-member board unanimously approved the settlement last week just as a nonjury trial was set to begin before a judge who has not looked favorably on the program.

The suit was filed three years ago by a tire company owned by a white man. The company lost out on a school system contract because of the 60,000-student district's preference system, he alleged.

The settlement preserves other aspects of the affirmative action program, such as outreach to minority contractors and mandatory monitoring of contracting practices. Based on what they learn from the monitoring, school board members may make some further changes to the program to put in place when the two-year ban is over.

Student Sues for Sports Access

A Maine private school student is suing to win the right to run on the track team at her local public school.

Jane Leblanc, an 8th grader at the Kennebunk Christian Academy, wants the right to participate in School Administrative District No. 71's interscholastic sports, just as home-schooled students can under state law, according to her lawyer, Karen F. Wolf.

"If [public] education ... includes a component of extracurricular activities and interscholastic sports, then a private school student should have that right," Ms. Wolf said.

Maine law gives home-schooled students the right to take part in extracurriculars, but it is silent on access for private school students, Ms. Wolf said.

The school board rejected the girl's request because of its long-standing policy that only full-time students may join sports teams and other clubs.

"The board sees the school program as a total program, not one in which people pick and choose which part of it they want to take," said Paul D. Rice, the superintendent of the 2,450-student district serving Kennebunk.

Hostage Taker Admits Guilt

The Idaho student who took at least a dozen of his classmates hostage in a five-hour standoff earlier this month has been sentenced to a juvenile-corrections center until he is 21.

Mitchell Gushwa, 15, admitted his guilt to charges of second-degree kidnapping, aggravated assault, burglary, carrying a weapon on school grounds, and vandalism during the April 9 incident at the Alternate School in Pocatello.

Most of the students managed to escape, but four remained in the building voluntarily, police said. Six students have now been charged with participation in the incident. Two have been charged with vandalism and another with petty theft.

Religious T-Shirts at Issue

Students at a Santa Fe, N.M., public school are not allowed to wear T-shirts bearing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a popular Roman Catholic religious image, if the shirts also have "gang indicators," such as initials and nicknames.

Bobbie Gutierrez, the principal at E.J. Martinez Elementary, sent a letter home to parents on April 15 to remind them of the 400-student school's dress code. She also included a sentence about the T-shirts, which angered Archbishop Michael Sheehan of the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe, who said the principal should have consulted with church officials before instituting the policy.

Ms. Gutierrez issued a follow-up letter April 17 to clarify that the shirts are still allowed if they do not bear gang symbols.

Lee Vargas, the superintendent of the 13,300-student Santa Fe schools, was scheduled to meet last week with members of his clergy advisory council to get their advice on better defining the districtwide dress code. A meeting with Archbishop Sheehan is expected in early May.

Parks' Gender Bias Alleged

A class action against the city of Los Angeles and its department of recreation and parks charges that a girls' softball league has been discriminated against in seeking access to playing fields.

The lawsuit filed April 16 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.

It contends that for 29 years the West Valley Girls' Softball league in the San Fernando Valley, which includes more than 400 girls ages 5 to 15, has been denied equal access to publicly owned fields that are permanently made available to boys' baseball leagues.

The ACLU is seeking injunctive and declaratory relief for violation of equal protection and gender discrimination under both the state and federal constitutions and California's Civil Rights Act.

Neither Jackie Tatum, who as the general manager of the Los Angeles recreation department is named as a defendant in the suit, nor Assistant City Attorney Mark Brown, who is handling the case, returned telephone calls seeking comment.

Court Rules Against Teacher

A state appeals court has upheld a Mississippi district's decision to not renew a teacher's contract for disciplinary reasons, despite her claims that school officials were biased against her.

The board of the 6,000-student Columbus school system decided not to keep Flora Brown for the 1995-96 school year after she was charged with "neglect of duty, insubordination, defiance of authority, tardiness, and excessive absences from her classroom," according to the April 7 opinion.

District officials also had previously suspended Ms. Brown after she allegedly took pictures at a closed meeting.

Ms. Brown had argued that the district was biased against her because the hearing officer who reviewed the nonrenewal of her contract had a close relationship with the superintendent and they had been involved in her earlier suspension.

Driver Charged in Deaths

A Tennessee grand jury has indicted the driver of a bus that crashed there last month, killing a teacher and a student returning from an academic fair.

Shirley J. Rook was charged April 15 with two counts of vehicular homicide and two counts of criminally negligent homicide, as well as one count each of aggravated assault and reckless endangerment. All are felonies.

Ms. Rook worked as a driver and trainer for the 10,500-student Blount County district's school bus contractor, Rocky Top Tours in Pigeon Forge.

She was returning students and their chaperones to William Blount High School in Maryville on March 26. As she changed lanes on Interstate 40 in Lenoir City, the bus collided with a tractor-trailer, according to her lawyer, Ralph E. Harwell. The truck driver has not been charged.

A trial could begin in three to four months, Mr. Harwell said. The National Transportation Safety Board in Washington is continuing its investigation and could complete it in six months to a year.

Girl Left on Bus Overnight

A bus driver was arrested April 16 and charged with endangering the welfare of a child after he left a 12-year-old Chicago girl with Down syndrome overnight on his school bus.

The girl's grandmother reported the child missing to the police around midnight, and the girl was found on the bus in the early morning.

The driver worked for White Transportation Co. in Chicago, a contractor for the Chicago school system. A bus aide, employed directly by the district, also neglected to see that the child had left the bus.

"The bus aide's responsibility is to see to the needs of the youngsters, help them on the bus and off the bus. She obviously didn't do her job," said Woody Fitzmaurice, the general manager of the transportation bureau for the 425,000-student district. It's also the bus driver's responsibility to make sure the students all get off the bus, he said.

Michael McQuaid, the commanding officer of the Area Two Youth Investigations Division in Chicago, said while he plans to talk to the bus aide, he considers the driver responsible for the incident. A court date has been set for May 29.

When the police visited the girl's home, they found it to be in such disarray that they charged the girl's grandmother with neglect and put the 12-year-old girl and her three younger siblings in the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services.

Student Dies in PE Accident

A 7th grader at Berry Middle School in Hoover, Ala., died April 6 after hitting her neck on the bottom bar of a hurdle during a physical education class.

Lyndie Life, 13, was jumping hurdles when she attempted to stop and lost her balance. She fell backward, and her neck struck the bottom of the hurdle.

Jay Glass, the chief deputy coroner for the Jefferson County medical examiner's office, called the incident "a freak accident." The girl's neck was not broken, but she suffered "concussive force to her brain stem," which stopped her breathing and heartbeat, according to Mr. Glass.


Terry Sanford

Terry Sanford, who focused on improving North Carolina's public schools when he was the state's governor, died April 18 after a battle with cancer. He was 80.

As governor from 1961 to 1965, Mr. Sanford, a Democrat, promoted legislation to raise teacher salaries and to create the state's community college system. During his tenure, the state increased public school budgets by 50 percent, much of it through an unpopular sales tax on food, dubbed "Terry's tax."

He was the president of Duke University from 1969 to 1975. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986 and served one term.

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