News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Court Bars Drug Testing Of Students Who Fight

A federal appeals court has struck down an Indiana district's policy of drug testing every student suspended for fighting.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled unanimously that the 11,000-student Anderson district's drug-testing policy violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches.

The policy was challenged by James R. Willis II, who refused to submit to a urine test after he was involved in a fight while he was a high school freshman last December.

The Chicago-based court said the district must rely on individualized suspicion of rule-breakers before requiring drug testing. It rejected the district's arguments that fighting itself was a symptom of illegal substance abuse.

A connection between the two behaviors "is by no means conclusive," the Sept. 9 ruling said.

Because students involved in fights usually meet with a school official, the court said, they can be evaluated for suspected drug use on an individual basis.

--Mark Walsh

Attendance Stance Toughened

Middle and high school students in Clark County, Nev., could risk losing academic credit for a class if they have more than 10 absences--excused or unexcused--in a semester, according to a policy adopted by the school board. And if they lose credit in at least three classes, they could be referred to one of the district's alternative education programs.

The policy, passed unanimously Sept. 10, is the 203,000-student district's attempt to comply with a new statewide accountability law, passed last year, that lists attendance rates as one of the measures that will be considered when schools are evaluated. Schools with less than a 90 percent attendance rate for three straight years could be labeled inadequate.

Elementary pupils in the district who miss the same number of days per year might have to repeat a grade, according to the new rules.

Kathy Christie, who coordinates the information clearinghouse at the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, said states and districts are placing more emphasis on attendance. But she added that the sanctions being applied are "all over the map."

--Linda Jacobson

Teacher Improvement

School Bus Accident Kills Girl

A 6-year-old was killed in a school bus accident in front of her home in Woodward, Iowa.

First grader Meredith Anne Seemann was struck while crossing the street in front of the school bus Sept. 10.

Woodward, Iowa

Police said that even with the blind-spot mirrors in front of the bus, the driver was unable to see the girl.

Julie Anne Barbour, the 34-year-old driver, who had been on the job for four years without incident, was so distraught after the accident that she had to be taken to a local hospital and treated for shock, school officials said.

No charges have been filed against Ms. Barbour. The district is waiting for the police to complete an investigation before they decide whether to reprimand her, said Allen Green, the superintendent of the 715-student Woodward-Granger schools.

--Jessica Portner

Union Sues Mo. Education Dept.

A Missouri teachers' union is suing the state education department for allegedly failing to ensure that local school systems spend enough on salaries.

The challenge stems from a 1996 state law that requires districts to devote a minimum percentage of their budgets toward compensating certified staff members. Although the statute allows for waivers, the 24,000-member Missouri National Education Association argues that the state has been too quick to grant exemptions. In all, the National Education Association affiliate claims, 112 of the state's 525 districts have not complied with the law.

The union filed two lawsuits against the state in circuit court this month, one demanding an end to the current waivers and another calling for new guidelines for issuing future exemptions. The group also is suing the 5,800-student Normandy school system, which union leaders claim has failed to comply with the law even though the district has ample funds.

State education officials said last week they needed more time to review the complaints before responding.

--Jeff Archer

Va. District Bans Solicitations

A Northern Virginia district has banned door-to-door solicitations by middle schoolers just a few months after a local 14-year-old was allegedly raped while selling newspaper subscriptions.

Elementary school pupils in the 56,000-student Prince William County district were already barred from selling cookies, newspapers, or other items door-to-door. The regulation adopted this month expands that restriction to the middle school grades.

Revenues from the neighborhood solicitations are generally used to pay for field trips and are not part of the basic funding for the schools, district leaders said. The extra money will have to be raised in another manner, they said.

--Jessica Portner

Asst. Principal Convicted for Drugs

A federal jury has convicted an assistant middle school principal in Florida of trafficking in drugs.

Willie James Young Jr., an assistant principal at North Miami Middle School in Miami, was found guilty Sept. 9 of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute.

Mr. Young, who has been in jail since his April 3 arrest, will be sentenced in November.

Although agents had no evidence that Mr. Young sold drugs to his students, he was found to have conducted drug deals with undercover agents on school grounds and in his office.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Rushed N.C. Mother Arrested

A woman in a hurry to get her children to school was arrested last week after she allegedly drove on a sidewalk near a local school to dodge traffic and dragged a police officer who tried to stop her.

Durham, N.C., police charged Sarah C. Carr with assault with a deadly weapon on a law officer, speeding to elude an officer, and careless and reckless driving. Officer Lori Fansler saw Ms. Carr's vehicle driving on residential lawns and ordered the woman to pull over, according to the police report.

When Officer Fansler leaned in to talk to the woman, Ms. Carr, a staff assistant for the Durham County government, told the officer, "I don't have time to be [expletive] with you," and hit the gas, the report said.

The officer's hand became tangled in the seat belt, and she was dragged about 10 feet, said S.M. Lee-Davidson, a police department spokeswoman. The officer was not seriously injured. Another officer then chased the car at speeds of 75 mph before the suspect finally pulled over in front of an elementary school.

Ms. Carr disputed the officers' account of the incident.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Students Steer Bus to Safety

Quick-thinking members of the Wadena-Deer Creek High School girls' swim team in Minnesota averted disaster when they stopped their moving school bus from careening off the road and crashing after their bus driver suffered a heart attack at the wheel.

Eugene Dickey, 66, was driving students home Sept. 10 after practice at a nearby swimming pool around 6:30 p.m. when the fatal attack occurred, said Brian K. Maki, the vice principal of the 750-student secondary school in central Minnesota.

When they noticed a problem, several girls ran to the front of the bus and attempted to assist Mr. Dickey, pulling him partially from his seat, while another student crawled beneath the bus's dashboard and jammed her hands on the brake. The bus, which Mr. Maki said was traveling at a moderate speed in a residential area, came to a stop; none of the passengers was injured. Mr. Dickey, however, could not be revived.

--Kerry White


Charlie G. Williams, a former state superintendent of education for South Carolina, died Sept. 7. He was 70.

Charlie G. Williams

As the schools chief, Mr. Williams, a Democrat, worked to implement the state's Education Improvement Act, a centerpiece of the administration of then-Gov. Richard W. Riley, who is now the U.S. secretary of education.

The law added a penny to the state's sales tax to improve the state's public education system. The funds helped raise teacher salaries, overhaul remedial and gifted programs, and upgrade facilities.

Mr. Williams, who held the elected office for 22 years, was ousted by Republican Barbara Stock Nielsen in 1990.

--Julie Blair

Vol. 18, Issue 3, Page 4

Published in Print: September 23, 1998, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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