News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Va. Toughens Standards For Prospective Teachers

Teachers in Virginia will have to jump higher academic hurdles if they want to get into a classroom, thanks to a new state school board rule that sets some of the highest minimum test scores for prospective teachers anywhere in the nation.

By next July, teacher-candidates will have to pass a new set of exams to demonstrate they are qualified in the subjects they teach. Currently, Virginia teachers are only required to pass a general-competency test. The board last month also adopted cutoff scores for the subject-area tests that are among the highest for teacher certification in the country.

Some teacher education experts say that too much emphasis on test scores will screen out qualified applicants and do little to improve learning.

But Kirk T. Schroeder, the president of the state board, argues that the change is necessary to ensure that teachers have a strong foundation before they enter the classroom.

--Jessica Portner

Brand Names Banned in S.F.

In what appears to be the broadest ban on commercialism in the nation's schools to date, the San Francisco school board has passed a resolution prohibiting the use of textbooks and other instructional materials that mention brand names, as well as exclusive contracts between soft drink and snack-food vendors and the 65,000-student district.

The new rules, already in effect, also order teachers to refrain from using brand names in the classroom unless they are an integral part of the lesson. And snack foods produced by tobacco-company subsidiaries will also be banned for sale.

The resolution adopted last month says that exclusive contracts could "imply that the school endorses those products."

Such contracts have been a source of revenue for the district. The financial impact of the new policy has not yet been assessed.

--Michelle Galley

Miami-Dade Ends Drug Testing

The Miami-Dade County district will discontinue its controversial drug-testing program.

Officials of the Florida district ended random drug testing this month after one year because the program did not fulfill its main purpose, said Henry Fraind, the deputy superintendent of schools.

The program was intended to complement the district's $4.5 million drug-abuse-prevention program. Initially, the plan called for the random testing of students whose parents consented in advance. But objections led to modifications allowing students to refuse to be tested.

Mr. Fraind said the voluntary nature of the program was a "major drawback."

Of the district's 85,000 high school students, 450 volunteered for testing. Only 37 were tested; two turned up positive for drug use. Officials had set aside $200,000 for the testing, but used only $1,100.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Judge OKs Spec. Ed. Pact

A federal judge has signed off on a settlement of a special education class action filed seven years ago by disability-rights advocates against the Chicago schools and the Illinois education department.

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman approved an agreement June 23 in which the state school board will contribute $21 million over the next seven years. The money will go toward aggressively monitoring the Chicago schools and providing teacher education and planning at schools with segregated classes for students with disabilities.

In the 1997 ruling known as Corey H., the Illinois board was found liable for failing to intervene to stop the practice of segregating special education students from their classmates in the 420,000-student district. At that time, the district was ordered to pay $24 million over eight years to integrate disabled students. ("Side by Side," March 24, 1998.)

--Joetta L. Sack

Denver Bilingual Plan Approved

A federal judge has approved a bilingual education plan for the Denver schools, settling a lengthy dispute involving the federal government, the district, and members of Denver's Hispanic community.

Under the plan approved last month by U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, most students with limited English proficiency would move out of bilingual education and into mainstream English classes within three years, a time line critics have said is too short. ("Denver Board Hopes Bilingual Ed. Plan Ends Dispute," Feb. 10, 1999.)

The plan, which takes effect in the fall, also calls for enhancing bilingual-teacher training and requiring more comprehensive student assessment and monitoring. The district is to design individualized learning plans for students who need more than three years to move into mainstream classes. An independent monitor will report to the court on the district's progress.

The U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights in 1997 found the district had violated federal law because of shortcomings in its program for limited-English-proficient students. About 14,000 of the district's 69,000 students are LEP.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

Man Ordered To Earn Diploma

A state district court judge in Brattleboro, Vt., has sentenced an 18-year-old to get his high school diploma after he was convicted on assault charges.

Michael Page was sentenced last month for shooting an 18-year-old man in the ear with a BB gun, punching and choking him, and forcing him to eat BB pellets.

State's Attorney Dan Davis said he asked the court to send the defendant to jail because of the seriousness of the assault. Instead, the judge sentenced Mr. Page to house arrest for at least six months. He will also have to attend anger management and counseling sessions.

The sentencing was in line with a new state program in which offenders 18 to 24 must earn their high school diplomas.

--Joetta L. Sack

Trip Spoiled; Teacher Probed

A Spanish teacher at a private high school in Augusta, Ga., is under investigation for allegedly paying a travel agency with bad checks for a student tour of Europe the teacher had organized.

Vanessa Velez-Cruz, who teaches at Aquinas High School, was in jail last week on an unrelated charge while authorities continued their probe, according to Chief Deputy Ronald Strength of the Richmond County sheriff's department.

The 28 students and two chaperones left for Europe June 17, but had to cut their two-week trip short when checks totaling more than $45,000 didn't clear the bank. The teacher, who had accompanied them, returned to the states early.

Ms. Velez-Cruz, a teacher at the Roman Catholic school for seven years, was arrested June 21 for allegedly violating her bond following an arrest in December on embezzlement charges while working for a local publication.

School officials said they had been unaware of her previous troubles with the law. Ms. Velez-Cruz's lawyer had no comment.

--Linda Jacobson

Absence Doesn't Halt Stipend

The case of a school board member in Oktibbeha County, Miss., who continued to collect his $200 monthly pay even though he had moved to Wyoming has touched off discussions of a change in state law.

School board members in Mississippi aren't required to attend meetings in exchange for their stipends. Monique Henderson, a spokeswoman for the state education department, said officials may ask legislators to close that loophole next year.

The 1,600-student Oktibbeha district has been under limited state oversight since March 1997 for low test scores. As part of their monitoring, state officials became aware that William Roberson had not attended meetings since last fall.

The state attorney general's office tracked Mr. Roberson to Frances Warren Air Force Base in Casper, Wyo., where he is a first lieutenant in the Air National Guard. A family member had been picking up his checks. Mr. Roberson, who is not commenting, is expected to resign his post.

--Ann Bradley

Des Moines Chief Rejects Raise

The superintendent of the Des Moines, Iowa, schools and his seven top administrators have rejected pay raises for the sake of winning a sales-tax referendum.

Eric Witherspoon, the superintendent, said that he and his lieutenants feared the raises might be used against the 32,000-student district as it tries for the third time in five years to pass a tax to pay for the repair and construction of school buildings.

The school board last month approved 3.25 percent raises for the eight administrators. Mr. Witherspoon's salary would have risen to $148,680.

Voters of Polk County, where Des Moines is located, rejected the 1-cent local-option tax by a 43-vote margin in March. A new referendum is likely in the fall.

--Bess Keller

Vol. 18, Issue 42, Page 4

Published in Print: July 14, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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