News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Seniors Denied Graduation Walk for Failing Alabama State Test

No pass, no walk. That was the message affirmed by the Montgomery County, Ala., school board, which has voted 4-3 to keep students who haven't passed the state's graduation exam from walking across commencement-ceremony stages.

Two board members had introduced a resolution on the issue on behalf of the parents of 60 seniors countywide who have completed the 22 course credits required for graduation but have not passed the long-standing 8th-grade-level exam.

Parents of two seniors from Sidney Lanier High School also filed a federal lawsuit last month against county and state officials, arguing that the test is racially biased--56 of the 60 students are black--and that the students were not given enough notice of the consequences of failing the exam.

The case continues to move forward even though the plaintiffs failed late last month to get a federal judge to allow the students to take part in graduation exercises.

No Commencement for Youths

Two teenagers accused of conspiracy in a fatal shooting at a Mississippi high school last fall were barred from participating in recent graduation ceremonies even though they were academically eligible.

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Officials at Pearl High School based their decision to block Donald P. Brooks II and Wesley Brownell from attending commencement on a Rankin County judge's orders that "the students were not to be involved in any school activities until after their trials," said Superintendent William H. Dodson.

The youths completed their senior year through private tutoring paid for by the Pearl public schools after they were indicted on charges stemming from a plot to kill fellow students.

Mr. Brooks and Mr. Brownell were two of six current and former students charged with conspiracy in connection with the fatal shootings that sophomore Luke Woodham allegedly committed last October. Two students died in the incident and several others were wounded. ("Six Charged as Conspirators in Miss. High School Slayings," Oct. 15, 1997.)

Although the two seniors' lawyers informally requested that the teenagers participate in the graduation ceremony, no official requests were brought to the school board or the superintendent's office, according to Mr. Dodson.

"I think they understood the court's directive not to participate in any school activities," he added.

Mr. Brooks was released without bond on his own recognizance, and Mr. Brownell was released on $50,000 bail, both pending the outcome of their trials.

L.A. Accident Case Settled

The Los Angeles City Council has agreed to pay $3.5 million as part of a settlement for an fatal accident involving a school bus and a defective city trash truck.

Two 8-year-old boys were killed in the December 1995 incident when the truck's hydraulic piston punctured the bus. Another child was seriously injured, and several others on the bus sustained minor injuries.

The council agreed last month to share a portion of the total $8.2 million settlement with the truck's manufacturer and the company that sold the truck to the city.

The families of the youths who died will each receive $2.5 million. The family of a boy who sustained a brain injury and a fractured skull will receive $1.3 million. The relatives of 33 other children on the bus will share $1.5 million, while the bus driver will receive $400,000 for emotional distress.

Miami Speech Policy Intact

The Miami-Dade County district has no plans to rein in its liberal student-expression policy, despite a consultant's recommendation that it do so.

District officials have been on the defensive since late last month, when retired administrator Russell Wheatley told The Miami Herald that a stricter policy could go before the school board for a vote as early as July.

Mr. Wheatley had been hired on a three-month contract to recommend broad changes in the 347,000-student Florida district's rule books, not to rewrite district policy, said district spokesman Henry Fraind.

Mr. Wheatley's proposed revision, which would have allowed principals to review student publications before they go to print, is "dead," Mr. Fraind said last week.

"This whole system has run out of patience talking about something that was never going to be," he said.

Sitting for the Pledge

A high school sophomore who opposes the Pledge of Allegiance will be permitted to remain seated during its recitation until school ends this week.

Thomas Anthony, the superintendent of the Fallbrook Union High School District, said last week that he made the decision to prevent controversy from overshadowing graduation. But this is a one-time exception to the rule.

The district wants to ensure that a California state law requiring students to spend time in patriotic observance is enforced next school year, Mr. Anthony said.

MaryKait Durkee, 16, will be required to stand or wait outside the classroom while her peers recite the pledge when school resumes in September.

Ms. Durkee told administrators in April she does not want to show respect for a nation she sees as violent and corrupt, Mr. Anthony said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that students do not have to salute the flag and recite the pledge. ("High Court Lets Stand Ill. Law Requiring Pledge in Schools," June 9, 1993.)

Ms. Durkee filed a lawsuit with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union last month.

N.H. Church School Banned

New Hampshire officials have obtained a permanent court injunction against a small church school that has refused to get approval from the state school board.

A state judge in Merrimack County late last month granted the state board's request for an injunction against the Rev. Paul Norwalt, who operates a small religious school for an estimated five pupils out of his Merrimack Baptist Temple.

State Commissioner of Education Elizabeth M. Twomey said last week that Mr. Norwalt had refused repeated requests from the state board to comply with its rules for nonpublic schools.

She called the rules "fairly minimal" and said they include providing the state with attendance information and proof of fire and health inspections, displaying the U.S. flag, and teaching about the U.S. Constitution.

"The board tried real hard for a long time sending him letters saying that this had nothing to do with religion," she said.

Mr. Norwalt reportedly has said that the Bible and the Constitution give him the right to run the school and that the state has no authority over it. He declined to appear for court hearings related to the injunction.

He did not respond to a message left on the church's answering machine last week.

No Springer; Fracas Ensues

Four New York City girls were expected to return to their elementary school late last week after being suspended for allegedly attacking their teacher because she would not let them watch "The Jerry Springer Show" on a classroom television.

Aishah Ahmad, the teacher at Public School 12 in the borough of Brooklyn, originally planned to have her 6th graders watch an educational program last month. When the girls, ages 11 and 12, couldn't persuade Ms. Ahmad to turn on the raunchy daytime talk show, they tripped, kicked, punched, and spat on her, according to police.

The 44-year-old teacher reported the incident to police the next day, but she has not yet decided whether to press charges against the students, who were suspended for several days.

Union officials said that Ms. Ahmad should press charges. "We want students to know that there are consequences for their actions," said Neill Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers. But, he said, the decision is up to Ms. Ahmad because she has to teach in the 832-student school.

Murder-Suicide at School

A Fort Lauderdale, Fla., teacher was fatally shot by her ex-boyfriend in a school parking lot late last month before the start of classes. The assailant then committed suicide.

According to police, Michael Grammig, 29, waited in the Stranahan High School faculty parking lot until Nicole Weiser, a 26-year-old special education teacher, arrived for work around 7:30 a.m. on May 29. Mr. Grammig took out a gun, shot Ms. Weiser in the head, and then turned the weapon on himself, according to Sgt. Tim Bronson, a spokesman for the Fort Lauderdale police department.

One school bus driver was transported to the hospital to be treated for shock, but few students at the 2,000-student school witnessed the incident. The staff parking lot is on the opposite side of the building from the student lot.

Vol. 17, Issue 39, Page 4

Published in Print: June 10, 1998, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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