News in Brief: A National Roundup

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L.A. To Review How Students Are Assigned to Spec. Ed.

The Los Angeles schools are examining whether thousands of students were improperly identified as having disabilities.

The 700,000-student district saw its special education population grow by 13 percent last year, a rate higher than the system's overall growth.

About 11 percent of Los Angeles students now receive special education services.

Proposals to examine the problem are now under consideration.The school board is weighing, for example, a $25 million plan that would turn 430 teachers into administrators to oversee placements in each elementary school.

"What we have is a process that is flawed," said Paul Mueller, the administrative coordinator for the district's special education division. "And there are youngsters that do get identified and may be misidentified."

But part of the growth, he added, might be attributed to better awareness and identification.

--Joetta L. Sack

Ariz. Investigations Yield Charges

Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano last week announced the first round of indictments in a number of school-related investigations that level charges including bid rigging, theft, and misuse of public funds and property.

Indictments are being brought against nine people from four districts around the state; among the individuals are six former and current district employees, including a former superintendent. The most serious criminal charges could result in a prison term, according to a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.

The office also issued "letters of concern" to five districts requiring various corrective actions in district policies and practices.

The indictments are the product of an ongoing task force on school fraud established in January to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in public schools.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

Suit Filed Over Colo. Shooting

The parents of Isaiah Shoels, one of 12 students killed by two student gunmen in the April 20 massacre at Columbine High School, have filed a lawsuit against the parents of the assailants.

Mr. Shoels' parents, who filed the suit May 27 in Denver District Court, are seeking $250 million in damages from Wayne and Katherine Harris and Thomas and Susan Klebold. Seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed the 12 students and a teacher at the Jefferson County, Colo., school before fatally shooting themselves.

Geoffrey Fieger, the lawyer for Michael and Vonda Shoels, has said in press accounts that the case was not about money but parental responsibility.

The suit alleges that the Harrises and Klebolds failed to supervise their sons, allowing the two teenagers to amass a cache of weapons and bombs in their homes.

The lawyers for the Harrises and the Klebolds could not be reached for comment.

In related news, Columbine High School students returned to the school last week for the first time since the shootings to pick up their personal belongings.

--Karen L. Abercrombie

N.Y.C. Official Seeks OCR Probe

A top elected official in Manhattan is calling on the U.S. Department of Education to investigate whether New York state is violating schoolchildren's civil rights in its distribution of resources to the New York City schools.

Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields was due to file a complaint last week with the department's office for civil rights. She planned to cite chronically low test scores, inadequate facilities, and a lack of qualified teachers in schools with high numbers of blacks and Hispanics.

Ms. Fields, a Democrat, said her complaint would focus on, among other problems, "the disparate impact of the state's funding for public education on members of minority groups" in the predominantly nonwhite, 1.1 million-student city system.

A spokesman for Gov. George E. Pataki said that state aid to schools had risen steeply during the second-term Republican's tenure, and that the complaint should be directed not at the state, but at the local school system.

New York City school officials, meanwhile, welcomed Ms. Fields' effort, and said the state had long shortchanged the city schools.

--Caroline Hendrie

More Cops, Fewer Teachers

The Indianapolis school district plans to eliminate some teacher positions by next fall, but hopes to hire six new police officers.

The school board of the 42,000-student district decided last month to lay off 63 of its 6,000 employees, some of whom would be teachers, and eliminate another 37 positions through attrition. At the same meeting, the board agreed the district should apply to a federal program called Community-Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, for $714,000 to pay for six new police officers.

There are currently 75 district police officers. The desire for increased security comes out of a gradually mounting concern about violent behavior in schools, and is not specifically related to the school shootings this spring in Colorado and Georgia, said Mary Louise Scheid, a district spokeswoman.

Ms. Scheid said the school system was moving to eliminate the 100 staff positions because student enrollment has dropped an average of 800 students each year since 1963, and the size of the faculty has not been reduced accordingly.

--Mary Ann Zehr

Sneak Peek Leads to Trouble

A Pennsylvania principal who admitted to looking at student transcripts without parental permission and comparing them with his son's may lose his job or be demoted.

Officials of the York city school district are deciding which action to take against Richard Greig, the principal of William Penn Senior High School.

During an unemployment-compensation hearing last August, Mr. Greig revealed that he had pulled other students' transcripts in order to see how a summer mathematics class had been recorded on them; the principal had tried unsuccessfully to have the class declared a noncredit course on his son Matthew's transcript.

Mr. Greig violated the federal law that prohibits the release of student transcripts without parental permission as well the policy of the 7,600-student district.

The unemployment-compensation hearing concerned a 14-week suspension that Mr. Grieg served last year after a school employee accused him of asking her to delete a B for the math class from his son's transcript.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Graduation Too Exciting for Some

A Missouri district is withholding the diplomas of six high school graduates because they danced across the stage at their graduation.

Gary Martasin, the spokesman for the 7,600-student Hickman Mills school district, said that all 162 graduates of Ruskin High School and their parents had to sign a contract stipulating that they would adhere to regulations on proper dress and behavior. The regulations were required not only by the districts, but by the Kansas City church that allowed the school to use its auditorium for the ceremony, Mr. Martasin said.

But one student did the "moonwalk" across the stage, and others waved their arms or jumped around.

The students must complete 10 hours of community service in order to receive their diplomas.

While most of the students are complying with the punishment, the parents of two graduates have sought legal advice from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri. As of last week, the organization had not decided whether to take the case.

--Candice Furlan

S.C. Teen Knows Where It's At

A 13-year-old South Carolina boy has become the first home-schooled student to win the National Geography Bee.

David Beihl of Saluda, S.C., has been taught at home by his mother, Penny Beihl, since he was in kindergarten.

In the finals of the national competition last month in Washington, he won a $25,000 scholarship and a one-week trip to Sydney, Australia, by correctly answering a question about La Niña.

--Candice Furlan

N.Y. Teacher Won't Give Speech

A popular teacher who was asked to speak at a graduation ceremony won't be allowed to, now that his school board in Moravia, N.Y., knows he doesn't recite the Pledge of Allegiance in class.

Students had picked Bruce D. MacBain, who teaches civics and history at the 390-student Moravia High School, to address their June 25 ceremony. But some board members took a dim view of the choice after learning of his stance on the pledge.

"This boils down to God and country," John Young, a member of the school board and a U.S. Army veteran, told The Associated Press. "Fine, if he doesn't want to say the pledge, but I don't have to associate with him."

Mr. MacBain, who has taught in the district for nine years and who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1996, said he objects to the phrase "under God" in the pledge.

"One of my biggest concerns is that kids are coming to me complaining because they feel forced to say it," Mr. MacBain said.

--Julie Blair

Vol. 18, Issue 39, Page 4>

Published in Print: May 26, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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