News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Federal Court Blocks Alabama Teacher Test

Alabama's state school board is appealing a federal court decision that prohibited it from creating a new teacher-certification test.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled unanimously this month that the Alabama board was bound by the settlement of a 1985 case in which the board agreed to abandon teacher testing because minority applicants had a disproportionately high failure rate.

To comply with that consent decree, the state board must ensure that any new test would be free of racial bias before instituting it, the appellate panel said. Until then, it said, the federal courts have the power to block the new test. The legislature required a new test under a 1995 law.

The board decided Jan. 14 to request a hearing before all members of the 11th Circuit court in Atlanta.

--David J. Hoff

Utah Toughens Teacher Training

The Utah state school board has voted to decertify any teacher-training programs in colleges or universities that do not offer future teachers a comprehensive set of reading courses by 2002.

The move comes after reading scores for the state's 5th graders fell two percentage points last year on the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition.

In an effort to show its commitment to reading and to beef up state standards for teachers, the board voted 10-4 this month in favor of the plan. The policy directly affects the five public and two private teacher-training programs in the state.

A board spokesman said they plan to work with universities to create the reading courses and intend to have the standards in place this year.

--Michelle Galley

Strikes Hit Anchorage Schools

School bus drivers in Anchorage, Alaska, went on strike last week, just as the city's school system had resumed classes following a walkout by office workers and teachers' aides.

The Totem Association, which represents 1,000 aides and support-staff members, began its strike Jan. 15, forcing the 49,000-student district to close its schools. Officials said the system lacked enough adults to adequately supervise students.

The district managed to reopen the schools Jan. 20 after hiring replacement workers. But members of the Teamsters Union, who drive buses at 29 of the district's 80 schools, went on strike that same day, forcing parents at those schools to find alternative transportation.

--Jeff Archer

Judge Orders Student's Transfer

A federal judge has found a school transfer program in the Rochester, N.Y., area unconstitutional in how its admission policies were applied to one student.

Chief Judge David G. Larimer of the U.S. District Court in Rochester issued a preliminary injunction Jan. 14 requiring the West Irondequoit Central district to admit Jessica Haak, a white 4th grader who lives in the city, to one of the suburban district's elementary schools.

After Jessica was barred from participating in the Urban-Suburban Interdistrict Transfer Program because of her race, her parents sued. The program--an arrangement between the Rochester city schools and six suburban districts, including West Irondequoit--was designed to integrate children from different races by permitting blacks from the city to transfer to suburban schools and whites in suburban areas to transfer to city schools.

A spokeswoman for the West Irondequoit district declined to comment on the injunction.

--Mary Ann Zehr

Groups Charge Discrimination

A new policy that separates elementary school students in the Amityville, N.Y., district into three achievement levels discriminates against minority children, a lawsuit charges.

It says a disproportionate number of black and Hispanic students are enrolled in the basic-skills program. The Amityville Teachers' Association, along with several parents and the Long Island chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, filed the suit against the 3,200-student district Jan. 12.

The school board adopted the program last August in an attempt to boost the district's poor reading scores.

While black students make up about 68 percent of the district's 1,500-pupil elementary enrollment, they represent more than 73 percent of those in the lowest-achievement classes, according to William P. Caffrey, the president of the union.

About 16 percent of the students in those classes are white, while whites make up 40 percent of those in high-achieving classes, he said.

Superintendent Dean F. Bettker said the matter had been referred to legal counsel.

--Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Students Attack Bus Drivers

A group of cold, angry high school students attacked their bus driver in Pontiac, Mich., after she arrived some 40 minutes late at their stop on a recent frigid day.

The students also attacked a male bus driver who came to her aid, Pontiac police Sgt. Conway Thompson said. The woman driver suffered minor injuries in the incident this month.

Following an investigation, school officials found a 17-year-old girl responsible for assault and battery. She was suspended for the school year and is subject to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine if the driver presses charges. The girl's 16-year-old brother was found responsible for assault and was also suspended for the school year. His case could go to probate court if a warrant is issued, Mr. Thompson said.

A third student, a 15-year-old girl, was found to have been disorderly during the incident and was suspended for a semester. No action was taken against other students who were involved.

--Julie Blair

Girl Killed Leaving Bus

Police in New Rochelle, N.Y., are investigating how a 1st grader was hit and killed by a truck just after she left her school bus on the first day back after winter break.

Six-year-old Bianca Boswell was returning home from Jefferson Elementary School when the incident occurred this month. Administrators said she had stepped off the bus when she was struck by a truck turning in front of the bus. She died at the scene.

The 10,000-student New Rochelle district's buses often carry monitors who help the drivers maintain discipline and assist students, although they are not required to help students cross the street.

No monitor was on the bus at the time, school officials said; nor are they required. Investigators do not yet know if charges will be filed against the truck driver.

The child's school experienced a second tragedy a week after the incident, when 5th grade teacher Suzanne Forte died in the building. The 30-year-old educator, who reportedly suffered heart problems, collapsed after dismissing her students because she felt sick.

--Jeff Archer

Tenn. Suspension Reversed

State of Tennessee A Tennessee student's rights were violated when he was expelled under a zero-tolerance weapons policy for having a knife in his car, a federal judge has found.

Knox County school officials in 1996 expelled 11th grader Dustin Wayne Seal for a year from Powell Senior High School in Knoxville. A vice principal found the knife while searching the student's car, which was parked in the school lot, for evidence that the boy had been drinking.

Mr. Seal claimed that he didn't know the weapon was in his glove compartment. U.S. District Judge James H. Jarvis Jr. said in his decision that the school board and the superintendent had found no evidence to contradict the claim.

Judge Jarvis ruled that the student's dismissal violated his due process rights and ordered the board and the 50,500-student district to pay unspecified damages to Mr. Seal.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Chicago Charter School Closes

Chicago school officials had guaranteed to find spots by the time school opened this week for some 80 displaced students when their charter school was shut down.

The board of the Chicago Preparatory Charter School voted last month to close the charter school, which served students recovering from alcohol and drug abuse, because of concerns expressed by administrators at the district's central office.

Greg Richmond, the director of the charter school office, which monitors the city's charter schools, said officials had lost confidence in the school's education program.

He said students were reportedly taking naps, listening to music, or wandering around the school. He added that there were numerous reports of students drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes and marijuana at school.

--Karen L. Abercrombie

Vol. 18, Issue 20, Page 4

Published in Print: January 27, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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