News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Topeka Schools Ask Court To Conclude Oversight

The Topeka, Kan., school district has asked the U.S. District Court there to end federal oversight of its desegregation plan.

The district contends in a motion filed April 16 that it has met all the goals of the court-ordered desegregation plan for the past three years. The motion could bring a conclusion to litigation stemming from the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case that the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1954.

Linda Brown Smith, the daughter of the original lead plaintiff in the case, revived the lawsuit in 1979. That action resulted 14 years later in a court-ordered desegregation plan and a multimillion-dollar bond issue to build three new schools. Since the 1994-95 school year, the district has met the court's goal of eliminating racially identifiable schools, said Gary Sebelius, the lawyer for the 14,000-student district.

Mr. Sebelius said he hoped the court would end its oversight this summer or in early fall.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Surveys Report Internet Access

The school library was the most common location for schools to have access to the Internet in both 1997 and 1998, according to recent surveys of U.S. public schools. But the greatest growth in access is occurring in classrooms and administrative offices.

Ariz. Tax-Credit Ruling Appealed

Opponents of an Arizona law that provides an income-tax credit worth up to $500 for contributions to scholarship programs that help pay for private and religious school tuition are taking their battle to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Late last week, the 30,000-member Arizona affiliate of the National Education Association announced that plaintiffs, with the backing of the NEA, would appeal an Arizona Supreme Court ruling handed down in January that upheld the tax-credit law by a 3-2 majority. ("Tax Credits Pass Muster in Arizona," Feb. 3, 1999, and "As Tax Day Nears, Arizona Prepares To Tally Credits," April 14, 1999.)

The plaintiffs, including the state's school boards' organization and individual religious leaders and parents, contend that the 1997 law violates federal constitutional provisions against government aid to religion. Supporters of the law argue that private schools benefit only as an indirect result of private taxpayer and parental choice.

Taxpayers were first able to take advantage of the law in income-tax filings due this month.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

Ex-Yankee Barred From Coaching

School officials in Whitefish, Mont., have prohibited former New York Yankees pitcher Steve Howe from coaching a girls' softball team because of his past history of drug problems.

Mr. Howe, 41, had been volunteering this season as a coach for the Whitefish High School girls' team on which his daughter Chelsi, a sophomore, plays. But Whitefish school officials decided April 19 to bar him from coaching.

A 13-year veteran of the major leagues, Mr. Howe was suspended several times for violating Major League Baseball's substance-abuse policy.

Dave Peters, the superintendent of the 2,000-student district, said school leaders made the determination to bar Mr. Howe based on "what was in the best interest of the kids."

--Kerry A. White

Rabbi Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy

A New York City rabbi pleaded guilty to conspiracy this month in connection with a money-laundering scam that funneled more than $6 million from a local public school district to a private religious school.

Hertz Frankel, the principal of the Beth Rachel School in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, got the money from people who were ostensibly hired bybut who did no actual work forthe city's Community School District 14, also in Brooklyn.

The conspiracy involved several District 14 employees as well as two former superintendents, elected members of the local school board, and dozens of housewives from Williamsburg's Hasidic Jewish community, according to Edward F. Stancik, the special commissioner of investigation for the New York City schools.

From the late 1970s to 1994, the district provided no-show jobs to 81 women who turned over their paychecks to Rabbi Frankel. In exchange, he delivered political support for three local board members.

Rabbi Frankel was sentenced to three years' probation and ordered to pay $1 million in restitution.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Ohio Principal Can't Escape Past

The Ohio state board of education took action against a well-respected Cleveland educator this month because he failed on five separate occasions to disclose prior criminal convictions on his application for a state principal's license.

Terry Butler, who was convicted of forgery in 1981 and domestic violence in 1980, was credited with establishing a nationally recognized science magnet program at the 1,350-student Cleveland East Technical High School.

The state board suspended his principal's license for two years and his teaching certificate for one year without pay, according to a district spokeswoman. Mr. Butler, who had been with the 76,000-student district for 24 years, was suspended with pay last April following a state investigation that uncovered his convictions.

Mr. Butler received a full pardon last December from then-Gov. George V. Voinovich. That action cleared the convictions from his record.

--Michelle Galley

Open-Campus Lunches To End

The Miami-Dade County school board approved a plan this month to close campuses during lunchtime at all district high schools by 2001.

The decision followed the slaying of a 9th grade Miami High School student who was shot last month while visiting friends at an apartment building during her lunch hour, according to Henry Fraind, the deputy superintendent of the 350,000- student system.

"We want to protect all of our students," Mr. Fraind said. "We can start by keeping them on campus."

Ten of the district's high schools already have closed campuses for lunch, but the 23 remaining high schools have open campuses.

The estimated cost of closing all the campuses is $6.3 million. The money will be used to hire cafeteria workers and cover construction costs.

--Karen L. Abercrombie

Teacher's Absences Cost Union

The St. Paul (Minn.) Federation of Teachers will pay the district $5,600 to compensate for time that the former union president spent out of his classroom.

Richard Cherveny, who recently completed his term as president, was absent from his job teaching 1st grade at Mounds View All-Nations School far more than either district or union officials realized. For years, the union has reimbursed the district for half the cost of its president's salary, to allow him or her to be absent to conduct union business.

In early March, the district found that Mr. Cherveny had taught just 17 half-days since September, instead of the normal 140, said Richard Kreyer, the district's labor-relations manager.

The union, which called on Mr. Cherveny to step down, agreed to reimburse the district for 31 days at $181.86 a day.

The union president served out the remainder of his term, which expired this month. The district has not ruled out taking disciplinary action against Mr. Cherveny, who is currently working as a substitute teacher, Mr. Kreyer said.

--Ann Bradley

Woman Sues Over Abuse Charge

A woman charged with child abuse after school officials in Waukesha, Wis., reported her to local authorities has filed a federal lawsuit against county and school district employees. Lisa Borum, who is representing herself in the case, seeks $10 million in damages.

In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago late last month, Ms. Borum charges that the employees defamed her character, intentionally caused her emotional distress, and conspired against her.

David Schmidt, the superintendent of the 13,000-student Waukesha school district, said school officials who report suspected abuse are upholding their legal obligation to protect children.

After signs of the suspected physical abuse appeared last year, "the school had concerns and communicated with social services," Mr. Schmidt said. "We did what we believed was best for the kids in our care."

--Jessica L. Sandham

Vol. 18, Issue 33, Page 4

Published in Print: April 28, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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