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Published in Print: June 2, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup

News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Chicago Won't Hold Pupils Back For a Third Time

The Chicago public schools will not retain failing students in the same grade for a third year, district officials say.

Since 1996, the 430,000-student school system has barred its lowest-performing students from advancing to the next grade level. Nearly 500 3rd, 5th, and 8th graders have now repeated the same grade twice.

Under the school board's new policy, those students will advance to the next grade level, though many may be placed in special education.

"We're not going to have an 11-year-old in the 3rd grade," Paul G. Vallas, the district's chief executive officer, said at a news conference May 19. "If you're not meeting minimal standards for promotion after two years of special tutoring," he added, "chances are that there is a special education issue that needs to be addressed."

--Kerry A. White

Ore. Science Test on Track

The Oregon state school board has voted to require sophomores to pass a new science test next year, despite complaints from teachers that the tests need work. But the board agreed to push back the start of state tests in social studies for three years, from 2001 to 2004.

The unanimous vote last month by the six-member board means that sophomores will have to pass a multiple-choice science test to earn a "certificate of initial mastery." The certificates are not required to earn a diploma but are considered marks of accomplishment.

The state education department originally had proposed delaying both the science and social studies tests for three years so that schools would have time to prepare students and the state could work on the exams. But members of the legislature had raised objections to changing the schedule, and the board and the superintendent agreed that not all of the pieces needed to move forward at once.

--Lynn Olson

Read the full report, "Official Education Construction Study Healthy Progress," from the American School & University magazine.

Milwaukee Schools Chief Named

A veteran Milwaukee school administrator took over the district's top job last week, after a majority of the newly elected school board agreed to buy out the former superintendent's contract for more than $400,000.

Spence Korté, 55, had been the principal of a local elementary school for the past 14 of his 25 years in the 105,000-student district. He replaced Alan S. Brown, who agreed to step down early last month at the nine-member board's request.

Mr. Brown had joined the district in October 1997 and was granted a two-year contract extension last fall. In early April, a slate of three incumbents and two other candidates endorsed by the local teachers' union were defeated by five others who vowed to shake up the status quo.

--Caroline Hendrie

Spec. Ed. Repayments Ordered

The Minneapolis public schools have been ordered to repay more than $7 million in state and federal aid for special education services the district did not provide.

An 80-page report by Minnesota officials found that the district used special education money to pay the salaries of teachers who were not working in special education and to pay unlicensed staff members. In addition, it found serious facility problems in several schools, including fire hazards, uncleanliness, and damp and moldy conditions in special education rooms.

The April 23 report grew out of routine state monitoring of the 49,000-student system's special education services in the 1996-97 school year.

"The report did not conclude the district was serving disabled students inappropriately--this was a financial and facilities problem," said Robert Wedl, the district's special education director, who was hired in January. He added that the problems have been corrected. The district has repaid about $3.5 million.

--Joetta L. Sack

Making Up for Lost Tests

After losing the test scores for about 80 New Jersey students, Federal Express has apologized to the youngsters and paid for a pizza party for them.

The Madison Burrough district sent three boxes of Metropolitan Achievement Tests in April to a scoring facility in Iowa via the private delivery service. Two boxes arrived safely, but one was misplaced, and some tests were lost, said Judith Greenwald, the superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the 2,000-student district.

The students affected were given the option of retaking the test or being judged based on their previous assessments. Only 13 took the district up on the offer to retake the tests, Ms. Greenwald said.

--Michelle Galley

Md. Teacher's Libel Suit Advances

A Maryland teacher's $1 million libel suit against a parent who complained about his behavior can proceed after a judge ruled that parents do not have "unbridled license" to make comments about their children's teachers.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge James C. Chapin refused to throw out the lawsuit filed against Suzanne Sutton, a Derwood parent.

Ms. Sutton complained to officials of the Montgomery County district that Paul Hassler, a teacher at Magruder High School in Rockville, often insulted students and once held an illicit preseason softball training clinic. School officials have said in legal papers that they could not substantiate the charges and cleared Mr. Hassler of wrongdoing.

The teacher sued Ms. Sutton for libel, and Judge Chapin said in a May 11 ruling that state law does not give "unbridled license to a parent to make complaints of any kind."

--Mark Walsh

Florida Unions To Merge

Florida's two state teachers' unions have voted to merge.

Delegates to both the Florida Teaching Profession-National Education Association and the Florida Education Association/United approved a constitution and bylaws that will govern the merged organization of 250,000 members.

The NEA affiliate has about 66,000 teacher members, while the American Federation of Teachers affiliate has 38,000. The rest of the members are bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and classroom aides. Delegates will meet next year at a founding convention to launch the new organization, which has yet to be named.

--Ann Bradley

Return of the Students

Students in a California district who played hooky from school to attend a first-day showing of the new "Star Wars" movie found a very real menace awaiting them at the shopping mall: local police.

Most of the Palmdale students never made it into the theater May 19 for "Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace" at a local mall. Some were warned by security guards to return their tickets before the police arrived. But about 15-20 students were caught in the truancy sweep, according to the Los Angeles County sheriff's office.

Linda Solcich, the spokeswoman for the Antelope Valley Union High School District, said the number of absences that day wasn't unusually high. "We were more concerned," she added, "that a lot of teachers and administrators might not show up, rather than students."

--Karen L. Abercrombie

Vol. 18, Issue 38, Page 4

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