News in Brief: A National Roundup

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California's Proposition 227 Challenged In Federal Suit

The voter-passed law that seeks to virtually eliminate bilingual education in California classrooms is facing another legal challenge.

Several groups representing educators filed a lawsuit last month in federal district court in Los Angeles arguing that Proposition 227 threatens educators' constitutional rights.

The suit asks the court to strike down a provision of the law that allows parents to sue educators and school board members and to hold them personally liable for fees and damages if they refuse to abide by the law, which was adopted as a ballot initiative last June.

The plaintiffs, including the California Teachers Association and the National Association for Bilingual Education, argue that the law chills educators' rights to communicate with students and that it is too vague in calling for language-minority students to be taught "nearly all" in English.

Supporters of the law say the personal-liability section adds much-needed accountability.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

Arizona Group Fights Bilingual Ed.

A Tucson-based group of parents and teachers has launched a ballot-initiative campaign to dismantle bilingual education in Arizona.

The group, English for the Children of Arizona, credits the passage of California's Proposition 227 last June as inspiration for the statewide effort. The Arizona organizers last week filed their initiative petition with state election officials.

The measure calls for most students whose English is limited to be taught in a one-year English-immersion program before moving into the mainstream.

The group needs to collect 101,762 signatures by July of next year to qualify for the November 2000 ballot. Some 94,000 of Arizona's 750,000 public school students are considered to have limited English proficiency.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

Court Overturns Home School Visits

Massachusetts' highest court has ruled that school officials in Lynn, Mass., do not have the right to visit home schools to monitor how students are being taught.

Two families had challenged a Lynn school board's policy requiring parents of home-schooled children to allow visits from school officials. If parents did not comply, the school system would not approve home education plans and parents could face prosecution for truancy.

In the unanimous Dec. 16 decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed a lower court's decision allowing mandated home visits.

James Mazareas, the superintendent of the 15,000-student district, said the Lynn schools were updating their home school policies.

--Kerry A. White

Soros Offers After-School Funds

George Soros has committed $6.25 million to provide thousands of Baltimore students with access to after-school programs.

The billionaire philanthropist, who heads the Open Society Institute, offered the support last month on the condition that another $12 million be raised for the three-year effort. The money will go to the Safe and Sound Campaign, a local initiative aimed at improving the lives of the city's children. Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has already pledged $1 million.

Mr. Soros' philanthropy also is underwriting an extensive after-school effort in New York City, where the institute has its headquarters. The institute committed $125 million last spring--to be matched 3-to-1 by funding from other sources--to support after-school programs in 500 schools throughout New York state over the next five years.

--Jeff Archer

Honor Society Admittance Ordered

A federal court has ordered the National Honor Society to admit two Kentucky high school seniors.

Somer Chipman, 17, and Chasity Glass, 17, were denied membership last spring in the group's local chapter at Grant County High school in Williamstown, Ky., because one was pregnant and the other had already given birth, according to the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union's Women's Rights Project.

A preliminary injunction issued last month allows the girls to be admitted to the society for the rest of their senior year while they wait for their case to go to trial.

School officials said they would comply with the court's order even though they did not believe they discriminated against the girls.

--Karen L. Abercrombie

Detroit Schools Liable for Firing

A U.S. District Court jury has found the Detroit school system and its former superintendent, David Snead, liable for improperly dismissing a consultant.

Peter Stenger was awarded $373,500 to settle his claim that in 1995 the 180,000-student district broke his contract and violated the state's whistle-blower act when he threatened to report financial errors he discovered. ("With Board Opposition Mounting, Snead Resigns as Detroit Superintendent," Nov. 5, 1997.)

Thomas Guyer, the district's lawyer, argued that the authorization for Mr. Stenger's work had expired and was not renewed. In addition, despite the outcome of the trial, the district was cleared of allegations that funds had been misused. All claims against Robert Boyce, the former school board president, were also dismissed.

--Michelle Galley

Ky. Youth Sentenced for Shootings

The Kentucky teenager who killed three of his classmates and wounded five others a year ago has received a sentence that almost guarantees he will spend at least the next quarter-century in prison.

A circuit court judge sentenced Michael Carneal last month to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years.

Using a gun he brought to school that day, the then 14-year-old fired into a group of students praying in the lobby of the 490-student Heath High School in West Paducah in December 1997. ("In the Wake of Tragedy," Dec. 10, 1997.)

In October, the youth pleaded guilty but mentally ill to three counts of murder and six other charges related to the shooting spree.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Former Head Start Leader Indicted

The former head of an agency that ran the Denver area's Head Start program has been indicted on state charges of embezzling more than $30,000 in program funds.

Ezekial Gomez, 59, was indicted by a grand jury last month on one count of theft and seven counts of forgery. Mr. Gomez was the board chairman and the executive director of the Child Opportunity Program Inc., which was under contract to operate the federal Head Start program.

Mr. Gomez had taken over the agency in 1996 after a federal investigation found that the Child Opportunity Program had misspent $800,000. But Mr. Gomez resigned four months after he took over. The indictment alleges that he illegally issued checks totaling $31,747 from an organization affiliated with the Child Opportunity Program to his personal accounts.

His lawyer has denied that Mr. Gomez violated the law.

--Mark Walsh

Policies Blamed for Girl's Death

Lax policies and practices of a city agency and errors by a masonry firm have been blamed for the death of a 16-year-old New York City girl who was killed by a brick that fell off the roof of a public school.

Yan Zhen Zhao died five days after she was struck on the head with a falling brick last January while accompanying a friend to Public School 131 in Brooklyn.

A report released last month by city investigators says that the School Construction Authority, the city agency in charge of public school repairs, created the environment in which the tragedy could occur. A "lethal combination of incompetent contractors, underpaid workers, halfway safety measures, and laissez-faire supervision" contributed to the accident, the report charges.

Since the incident, the agency has increased supervision and inspection at every site and added mandatory safety training courses for its staff, said Milo Riverso, the president and chief executive officer of the authority.

Last March, Espo Construction Inc., the Bronx firm working on the school when the brick fell, pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the girl's death.

--Mary Ann Zehr


J. Harold Flannery, Jr., a Massachusetts judge and former civil rights lawyer who represented plaintiffs in high-profile school desegregation lawsuits in Boston and Detroit, died Dec. 18. He was 65.

J. Harold Flannery Jr.

In the 1972 Boston suit, which led to an anti-busing backlash that remains a milestone in the nation's desegregation struggles, he served as a lead counsel to the plaintiffs. Mr. Flannery also played a central role in the 1970 Detroit case that yielded two landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

From 1995 until his death, he was an associate justice of the Massachusetts appeals court, following 11 years on the trial court bench. Mr. Flannery was also a civil rights lawyer in the U.S. Department of Justice and the national director of the Washington-based Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.

--Caroline Hendrie

Vol. 18, Issue 18, Page 4

Published in Print: January 13, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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