News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Milwaukee Voucher Program Expected To Grow Next Year

Wisconsin is offering to pay for up to 10,000 low-income students to attend private schools next year under the Milwaukee voucher program, nearly 4,000 more students than participate in the program this year.

Eighty-six private schools, some of which are religious schools, are currently participating in the Milwaukee Parental School Choice Program; next school year, 99 schools will participate, said Charlie Toulmin, the program administrator. In addition, he said, some of the schools will likely increase the number of slots available to children transferring from public schools.

If all the slots are filled next year, the state will be required to pay $50 million for the program, Mr. Toulmin said.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin's statewide open-enrollment program, which allows students to enroll in schools outside their home districts, is expected to grow by 13 percent next year, according to the state education department. Some 2,300 students participated in the program this school year.

--Julie Blair

Changes to PSAT Benefit Girls

More young women will win National Merit Scholarships this year, thanks to the new "girl friendly" version of the Preliminary SAT, according to a study by a testing watchdog group.

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, determined through an analysis of the names of semifinalists in the competition that about 350 more girls will be eligible for merit scholarships this year than last year.

The scores from the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test are the sole factor in determining initial eligibility for about $28 million in scholarships.

FairTest filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights in 1994 charging the Educational Testing Service and the College Board with discriminating against girls in designing and administering the test. In settling the complaint, the test-makers agreed to add a multiple-choice section on writing skills; girls tend to score higher than boys in this area. ("For Girls, Writing's on the Wall in New PSAT Exam," Jan. 28, 1998.)

--Adrienne D. Coles

Teen Mothers Receive Honor

Two Kentucky teenage mothers this month participated in a rite denied them last year: formal induction into the National Honor Society.

Chastity Glass, 18, and Somer Chipman Hurston, 18, joined 33 other inductees at Grant County High School in Williams-town in the traditional candlelight ceremony where new members are formally accepted into the national organization.

Grant County school district officials denied Ms. Glass' and Ms. Hurston's membership as juniors last year, even though they met the academic criteria. The girls failed to meet criteria for leadership, character, and community service, school officials said.

Aided by the American Civil Liberties Union, Ms. Glass and Ms. Hurston sued the district, saying officials had discriminated against them because they became pregnant out of wedlock. ("Venerable National Honor Society Catching Flak From Some Quarters," Nov. 25, 1998.) Ms. Hurston married last summer.

Last December, a federal district judge ruled that the girls should be inducted into the NHS while their case awaits trial. The case is expected to be argued this summer.

--David J. Hoff

NSF Ends Grant to San Diego

An intensive focus on literacy this year will cost the San Diego schools up to $8 million in lost federal funding under the National Science Foundation's Urban Systemic Initiative.

The foundation announced this month that it would terminate its five-year, $15 million grant to the 140,000-student San Diego Unified School District midway through the program.

NSF spokesman Lee Herring said the primary reason was the district's "self-admitted inability to address both science and math at the elementary level."

District officials acknowledged that an increase in the time devoted to reading--from an average 27 minutes a day last year to a mandatory three-hour block in each of its elementary schools this year--had made it difficult to improve instruction in other subjects.

San Diego is the fourth of 20 urban districts involved in the initiative to lose funding for failing to significantly improve instruction in science and mathematics.

--Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Court Reinstates Harassment Suit

A New Jersey appellate court has revived a lawsuit filed on behalf of a 7th grader who says she was taunted and harassed because she was too smart.

The court overturned a state trial court's ruling that granted immunity to the Bergenfield school district under a New Jersey law.

During the 1993-94 school year, the suit alleges, Diane Hamel, a student at Roy W. Brown Middle School, was habitually teased and on one occasion assaulted by fellow students because she was a good student. School officials failed to respond to her family's complaints, her suit contends.

The trial court threw out the suit, saying the state's Charitable Immunity Act applied to the district because it is a nonprofit educational organization. But in a May 4 ruling, a three-judge state appeals court said the legislature "never intended that the act would afford immunity to public schools."

--Mark Walsh

Bad Timing for Comedy

A principal in Palm Harbor, Fla., has canceled a school play that contained slapstick violence involving guns and bombs, fearing it might appear insensitive in light of the fatal shootings at a Colorado high school last month.

Alec Liem, the principal of the 1,900-student Palm Harbor University High School, halted production of the Woody Allen comedy "Don't Drink the Water" after the school's drama teacher raised concerns. Students had worked on the production, which was scheduled to run this month, for most of the semester.

"A lot of students were disappointed," but most understood the decision, said Ron Stone, the Pinellas County school district's associate superintendent for public affairs.

But Raymond Arsenault, the president of the American Civil Liberties Union's Florida chapter, said school officials overreacted. "Using their logic would lead to an enormous range of censorship," he added.

--Michelle Galley

Trustees Ousted in Hawaii

A judge has temporarily unseated four of the five trustees who have managed the huge estate that runs the private Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu.

With an estimated worth of $10 billion, the Bishop Estate is one of the nation's wealthiest trusts. Kamehameha Schools, a single institution originally consisting of a boys' school and a girls' school, educates students of Hawaiian descent. ("Debate, Controversy Swirl Around Kamehameha Schools," Feb. 11, 1998.)

The trustees have been accused of mismanagement and abuse of power. In a May 7 decision, Probate Judge Kevin Chang noted that the Internal Revenue Service had said it would proceed with steps to take away the trust's tax-exempt status if the trustees were not removed.

The estate's fifth trustee resigned. The court appointed five interim trustees, who have the option of seeking the permanent removal of the incumbent members.

--Mary Ann Zehr

District Not Liable for Suicide

A state appeals court in Madison, Wis., ruled this month that a school district that failed to inform a student's parents of his unusual behavior could not be held liable for the boy's suicide.

Andrew McMahon was a 15-year-old freshman at the 350-student St. Croix Falls (Wis.) High School when he left school on Jan. 26, 1996, went to a friend's house, doused himself in gasoline, and set himself on fire, according to an affidavit. Lawyers for the boy's parents argued that the district "breached its duty" when it failed to inform the parents of his absence and of an alleged report from a fellow student to a guidance counselor that the boy "seemed depressed and preoccupied."

Lawyers for the 1,100-student district argued that if liability were found in this case, districts would have to treat each truant or despondent student "as an imminent suicide," according to court papers. The 3rd District Court of Appeals agreed, upholding an earlier decision by the Polk County Circuit Court.

--Michelle Galley

Student Hacker Alters Grades

Four 16-year-old boys have been suspended after one of them broke into their high school's computer system and changed his grades and those of the three others for the better.

The student gained access to the computer system more than 30 times during two weeks in April, by using a computer and a fax machine in the media center at Douglas County (Colo.) High School, according to the county sheriff's office. After a teacher spotted an error in a grade record, school investigators identified the hacker, who has since admitted his involvement, by using time and data logs in the system's record-keeping software.

The students were suspended for from five to 10 days, depending on the degree of their alleged involvement, and may be expelled.

--Andrew Trotter

Vol. 18, Issue 36, Page 4

Published in Print: May 19, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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