News in Brief: A National Roundup

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UPDATED July 2008: All charges against Florida high school teacher Elizabeth M. McDeavitt were dropped four years after the 1998 case reported below was initiated. (See “Teacher Charged With Abuse.”)

Court Upholds Drug Testing for Tennessee Teachers

The Knox County, Tenn., public schools may give drug tests to teachers regardless of whether they are suspected of using them, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 3,200-member Knox County Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, had argued that the tests violated teachers' Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The one-time initial drug screenings challenged by the teachers' association are typically given to applicants to the 53,000-student system, said John E. Owings, the chief deputy law director for Knox County.

Teachers occupy "a singularly critical and unique role in society" by their daily contact with students, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, based in Cincinnati, said in its ruling last month. Thus, it ruled, teachers can be screened for drug use without particular suspicion that they actually use drugs.

The teachers' union plans to appeal the ruling.

--Ann Bradley

Iowa Adopts Bus-Safety Rule

All new school buses in Iowa must be outfitted with safety arms, beginning in November. The arms, which extend six to eight feet in front of the vehicles, better enable drivers to see children crossing the street.

After studying the devices for two years, the state school board officially announced its decision Sept. 10, the same day that 6-year-old Meredith Anne Seemann, a Woodward, Iowa, 1st grader, was killed when she walked in front of a school bus and into the driver's blind spot.

Though the policy applies only to new purchases, districts can add the device to their existing fleets at a cost of around $200 to $250 per bus.

But just installing the arms doesn't guarantee students' safety. Terry Voy, a transportation consultant for the Iowa education department, said that the state's 260,000 students who are transported by school buses each day need to be taught to stand at the end of the arm and wait for the driver's signal before crossing the street.

--Michelle Galley

GED Test Chart

One Strike Ends, Another Remains

Students in the steel town of Rock Falls, Ill., went back to class last Wednesday after one of this fall's longest-running teacher strikes came to an end.

Teachers in the 1,000-student Rock Falls Elementary School District 13 walked off the job Sept. 8 after contract negotiations broke down between the union and the district. At issue were salary increases and a plan for educators to work additional preparation days during the summer.

As the strike wore on into its fourth week, one of the final sticking points was how the school system would make up the instructional days lost to the strike. Both sides agreed last week to put the question to binding arbitration.

About 1,700 students in the Sparta, Ill., district were still out of class late last week as a strike by teachers there entered its second week. Educators in Sparta have argued that the district isn't paying competitive salaries.

The local unions in both cities are affiliates of the National Education Association.

--Jeff Archer

Boy Pleads Guilty in Ky. Shooting

A 15-year-old boy pleaded guilty and mentally ill last week for killing three students and injuring five others at Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., during a prayer meeting last December.

Judge Jeff Hines accepted the plea on condition that Michael A. Carneal could be sentenced to the maximum penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years, said Julie Brown, a spokeswoman for the McCracken County Circuit Court. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 16.

The youth will be sent to a juvenile-detention facility until he turns 18. At that time, his case will be reviewed.

The boy's lawyer said during the trial that Mr. Carneal was suffering from paranoia and a personality disorder when he opened fire on a crowd of 35 last year in the school's lobby.

--Julie Blair

Teacher Charged With Abuse

UPDATED July 2008

All charges against Florida high school teacher Elizabeth M. McDeavitt were dropped four years after the 1998 case reported here was initiated.

Tony Young, the assistant state’s attorney who prosecuted her in Okeechobee County Circuit Court, and Philip J. Yacucci Jr., the defense attorney who represented her, both confirmed in interviews with Education Week in July 2008 that all 12 counts were dismissed because the accusations could not be substantiated.

"It appeared the state would not be able to prove the allegations," said Mr. Young, who retired from the state’s attorney’s office in 2004 and is now in private practice in Okeechobee, Fla. Mr. Yacucci is now a judge on the St. Lucie County Circuit Court, in Fort Pierce, Fla.

Magi Cable, the secretary-treasurer of the Okeechobee County Education Association, the local teachers’ union, said union records reflect that nolle prosequi documents—used by prosecutors declining to pursue a case—were filed in October 2002. She said that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued Ms. McDeavitt a “certificate of eligibility to seal or expunge” her record, and that Ms. McDeavitt filed an affidavit to do so in May 2004.

An employee at the department of law enforcement said he could neither confirm nor deny that Ms. McDeavitt’s record had been expunged. An employee in the felonies division of Okeechobee Circuit Court said no case could be found under Ms. McDeavitt’s name.

A high school special education teacher in Okeechobee, Fla., has been charged with 12 counts of child abuse against her students.

According to charges filed by the sheriff's office late last month, Elizabeth M. McDeavitt physically and mentally abused six of her teenage students at Okeechobee High School over a 16-month period beginning in May 1997. She allegedly hit, pushed, and punched the students, including repeatedly hitting in the chest a 13-year-old with a pacemaker, and throwing a chair and stapler at another. None of the students were seriously injured.

Both the Okeechobee sheriff's office and the 6,600-student Okeechobee district are still investigating the case, said Assistant Superintendent Lee Dixon, who described Ms. McDeavitt as a 12-year veteran teacher with good evaluations.

The teacher has been reassigned to the district's administrative office pending the outcome of the district investigation, he added.

Mr. Dixon said the district is also investigating whether school administrators properly reported the complaints about Ms. McDeavitt's alleged behavior. She was unavailable for comment.

--Joetta L. Sack

College Costs Climb, Report Says

College will cost students between $66 and $723 more in tuition and fees this school year, a report released last week says.

Students who attend public colleges or universities will pay an average of 4 percent more this year than last, while those in private four-year institutions will spend 5 percent more. In addition, the cost of two-year schools will rise 4 percent, according to the annual report by the College Board, a New York City-based membership organization that deals with higher education financing issues.

On average the cost of tuition and fees at four-year public schools will increase from $3,111 to $3,243 while private four-years will increase from $13,785 to $14,508. Two-year private colleges will rise from $7,079 to $7,333 while two-year public schools will increase from $1,567 to $1,633.

The study also found that room and board costs will increase 3 percent to 5 percent over last year.

But the good news is that more than $60 billion in financial aid was available to students in 1997, a record amount and 80 percent higher than a decade ago, the report states.

--Julie Blair

13 Fired in Cleveland District

Thirteen top administrators in the Cleveland school system have been fired since the state handed Mayor Michael R. White control of the troubled, 76,500-student district last month.

According to Louis J. Erste, the newly appointed interim chief executive officer, the administrators were handed their pink slips earlier this month after he and top aides evaluated their performances and determined that they would have trouble working with the new administration.

While some of those who were dismissed are expected to be replaced by new hires, some positions may be eliminated.

--Kerry A. White

$1.9 Million Paid in Building Case

The Broward County, Fla., school board voted last week to pay $1.9 million to settle a lawsuit filed over a school construction project.

District officials in 1992 approved the renovation and expansion of Sunland Park Elementary School. According to district documents, the project was scheduled to take just under two years, but wound up taking 3½ years.

The project builder, Allstar Builders Corp. in Fort Lauderdale, filed a lawsuit against the district in 1996, seeking more than $5 million to recoup what it claimed were higher costs and other damages due to the delays. The suit claimed that the architect had caused the project delays through poor management and defective plans. During construction, the architect filed for bankruptcy.

In the settlement, neither side admitted to wrongdoing or liability. The 229,600-student district has an annual budget of $2.1 billion.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

Prison School Seeks Outside Help

Arkansas is searching for a private company to run the school in its largest juvenile-detention facility after a recent review of the facility determined that a private company would do a better job than the state's human services department.

The state spends about $1.4 million a year for the Alexander Youth Services Center, which serves about 150 students, all of whom have been convicted of felonies.

But the review found that students at the facility, which is 20 miles outside of Little Rock, are in class only an average of 2½ hours a day, a spokesman for the state agency said.

The human services department is looking for a company to operate the school starting Dec. 1 and continuing through the end of the school year. By then, it plans to select a permanent contractor.

Thirty-three state employees are expected to lose their jobs, but former employees will receive preference if they apply for other positions in the agency.

--David J. Hoff

Vol. 18, Issue 7, Page 4

Published in Print: October 14, 1998, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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