News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Education Advocacy Group Shuts Down After 119 Years

An independent advocacy group that has been working in behalf of Philadelphia's public school students for 119 years is closing its doors this week.

The Citizens Committee on Public Education in Philadelphia came up against "a confluence of obstacles" in recent months, said Gail Tomlinson, the executive director of the 200-member group.

The group will maintain a small board to leave open the possibility of reorganizing if funds become available. In addition to grappling with fund-raising difficulties and time constraints on members, the committee's role as a "critical friend" of the schools has become murkier at a time when reforms are under way in the 215,000-student district, she said.

The organization has actively lobbied for desegregation, higher teacher salaries, and smaller classes. Recently, the group joined in a federal suit challenging school funding in Pennsylvania.

--Jessica L. Sandham

Class Discussions Prompt Suit

A San Leandro, Calif., high school teacher has filed a federal lawsuit against his district after being disciplined for talking about anti-homosexual and racial discrimination in his honors English class.

Karl Debro, who is also the faculty adviser for San Leandro High School's Gay/Straight Alliance, claims that he has been targeted because he is African-American and a powerful force at the school against discrimination.

The suit challenges the constitutionality of the 8,000-student district's policy on discussing controversial issues in the classroom, according to his lawyer, Julia Sherwin. Mr. Debro maintains that he never saw the policy before receiving a disciplinary memo singling him out for a 1997 incident in which several teachers discussed tolerance and displayed gay-rights symbols in their classrooms.

Mr. Debro also contends that the policy violates his freedom of speech and said he was warned of further discipline if he continued to voice his opinions.

School officials would not comment on the lawsuit.

--Karen L. Abercrombie

ATF Studies Youth Gun Purchases

Teenagers who use guns to commit violent crimes are more likely to procure them from an adult who purchased the weapon on their behalf than by stealing them from someone's house, a federal report released last week shows.

One-third to one-half of the guns used by young people to commit crimes were given to them illegally from so-called straw purchasers who bought the weapons from licensed gun-shop owners, according to the report by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

The survey tracked gun purchases in 27 cities over a three-year period. The agency's findings appear to support the argument by gun-control advocates that tighter restrictions on gun purchasing would help thwart gun-related violent crime. They also suggest that existing buyer checks and record-keeping methods may not be working as well as they should to keep weapons out of the hands of juveniles.

--Jessica Portner

Racy Newspaper Brings Expulsion

A 16-year-old student disgruntled with his high school's newspaper has been expelled for the remainder of his school career after distributing what school officials describe as a racy underground newspaper on school grounds.

By a 5-1 vote, the Wisconsin Dells school board agreed last month to expel John Krahn, a junior at the 516-student school, for "insubordinate and disrespectful" behavior and "a violation of school rules," said Peter Martin, a lawyer for the district.

Mr. Krahn's work "was designed to debase and defame some administrators, staff, and students," Mr. Martin said.

Mr. Krahn could not be reached for comment.

--Julie Blair

Student Takes Principal Hostage

A principal in Maryville, Tenn., was held at gunpoint in his office for three hours last week by an 8th grade student.

Students at Montvale Elementary School told Principal James Ratledge that the 14-year-old boy had a weapon on campus. Mr. Ratledge confronted the youth in the hallway but did not find a weapon, according to police.

When the principal took the boy to his office, the student pulled a gun from his pants and pointed it at the principal, police said. An assistant principal witnessed the Feb. 24 incident and called the police. About 800 students were evacuated from the K-8 school, police said.

After police negotiated with the student, he let the principal go unharmed. The student surrendered two hours later.

--Karen L. Abercrombie

Van Accident Kills Six Children

Six children--ages 7 to 12--were killed in a traffic accident in Wallace, S.C., Feb. 16 when the day-care van they were riding in collided with a tow truck.

The 15-passenger van from the Wallace Family Life Center in Bennettsville, S.C., was taking 10 students home from an after-school tutorial program. Four students had been dropped off when the van failed to yield the right of way to the tow truck on an interstate highway, according to a spokeswoman for the South Carolina public-safety department. None of the children was wearing a seat belt; three were thrown from the van, authorities said.

The van driver, Shirley Christine Bennett, survived, but her two children died in the accident. The tow truck driver, Willie Clark McColl, also survived the accident. All involved were from the Wallace area.

Authorities have not yet determined if charges will be filed.

--Candice Furlan

Mayor Targets School Conditions

The mayor of Manchester, N.H., has suspended the city's director of building services after a flood at an elementary school uncovered what were described as years of neglect.

Richard Houle, who has worked for the district for 23 years, was suspended for one week with pay by Mayor Raymond Wieczorek in early February. Officials had learned that Mr. Houle had failed for years to have the fire department inspect the sprinkler systems at the district's 22 schools, after a sprinkler system malfunctioned at Northwest Elementary School.

Mr. Houle, whose job includes maintaining and overseeing custodial services for the schools, claimed that he did not have enough money in his budget to pay for the $2,000 annual inspections. But he later returned to the district about $11,000 of unused funds.

Mr. Houle has since agreed to retire next month.

--Marnie Roberts

Acquittal in N.Y. Teacher's Death

A jury has acquitted a 27-year-old man of all charges in the May 1997 slaying of a New York City English teacher.

Montoun T. Hart was an acquaintance of Corey Arthur, the former student who was convicted of second-degree murder last November for killing teacher Jonathan M. Levin, who had befriended Mr. Arthur.

Mr. Hart, who was not a former student of Mr. Levin's, was acquitted Feb. 11 because of insufficient evidence that he had played a role in the slaying, according to officials in the district attorney's office.

Mr. Levin's murder sparked discussions among educators about the risks involved when teachers form friendships with students outside class.

--Karen L. Abercrombie

Man Sentenced in School Shooting

A former sheriff's deputy who shot and killed his estranged wife and injured a school employee in a Buffalo, N.Y., elementary school has been sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

Juan Roman, 38, pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree and assault in the first degree in December. Mr. Roman stole a .357-caliber pistol from the Erie County Holding Center, where he worked as a jail guard, and used the gun to shoot Norma Roman, who was at the school to drop off two of their children.

None of the students at the 650-student Public School 18 was hurt, but a teacher's aide, Margaret Beals, was wounded in the incident.

--Michelle Galley

School Closes After Slaying

Ombudsman Educational Services has closed a learning center for at-risk students in Elgin, Ill., following the shooting death of a 14-year-old student at the site.

The private company, which is based in Libertyville and has 70 sites nationwide, provided alternative education programs to some 20 students from several schools at its center in Elgin, northwest of Chicago.

One of the districts that sent students to the center was the 35,000-student District 46 in Elgin. Larry Ascough, the district's spokesman, said that company officials told him the site would be closed permanently and that they hope to open the center in a new location next year.

Two teenagers have been arrested in connection with the Feb. 11 shooting.

--Robert C. Johnston


Jan Hawkins, an authority on using technology in schools, died Feb. 9 of breast cancer. She was 47.

Ms. Hawkins joined the Center for Children and Technology in 1981 when it was based at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City. The center later became a division of the Education Development Center, a Newton, Mass.-based nonprofit research-and-development organization. Ms. Hawkins worked with districts and museums to design programs that integrate technology into curricula.

She left her position as vice president of EDC last September to join the Harvard University's graduate school of education as a professor.

--Michelle Galley

Vol. 18, Issue 25, Page 4

Published in Print: March 3, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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