News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Suit Challenges Detroit's Takeover of Schools

The city of Detroit's takeover of the local public schools was challenged in a federal lawsuit filed last week.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court there alleges that the state of Michigan violated the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by not allowing Detroit voters to select their own school board. Mayor Dennis Archer appoints the school board.

Groups fighting the school takeover sued the mayor, interim schools Superintendent David Adamany, Gov. John Engler, and others who helped create the new system. The plaintiffs, including a student, a teacher, and organizations such as Eastside Ministers United in Action, plan to seek an injunction to return governance of the 174,000-student district to an elected board.

--Alan Richard

Cleveland Off Emergency List

Jim Petro, the Ohio state auditor, has removed the Cleveland school district from the state's fiscal-emergency list.

The removal, announced this month, along with a follow-up report on the district's financial performance, says that the 77,000-student system no longer meets emergency criteria. It says that officials have devised a fiscal-accountability system, prepared a financial forecast that shows the district remaining solvent for five years, and implemented 93 of the 144 recommendations in the state's initial audit in 1996.

Cleveland was declared in fiscal emergency after the audit projected a $1.4 billion debt by 2004. Since adopting the recommendations, the district has saved $50 million. Its current budget is $583 million.

--Candice Furlan

Student Claims ADA Protection

A high school basketball star in Illinois who was kicked off his team for alcohol-related convictions is suing his school, claiming that, as a recovering alcoholic, he is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Monroe "Rickey" Higgins, 17, was convicted of drunk driving in May and was later cited for another alcohol-related offense.

He and his mother filed suit this month in federal district court in Chicago against Warren Township High School in Gurnee. In the lawsuit, the senior asks to be reinstated on the basketball team and awarded $100,000 in compensatory damages.

School officials deny any discrimination against students with disabilities. Bennett Rodick, the lawyer for the 45,000-student Warren Township District No. 121, said he doubted that the ADA was ever intended "to shield people against the consequences of their own illegal actions."

--Joetta L. Sack

Holy-Day Closings Spark Suit

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued an Ohio district for closing school on the Jewish high holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

The suit, filed this month, alleges that the 6,000-student Sycamore district cites high student absenteeism as the basis for not holding classes on those days, even though the actual absentee rate has been below the threshold set by the school board in the religion-neutral policy it established in 1995.

District officials planned to close Sept. 20 for Yom Kippur. The school board, however, has rebuffed requests from Islamic and Hindu parents to close on their holidays, according to the suit.

The suit claims the board favors Judaism over other religious faiths, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Superintendent Bruce Armstrong said the board agreed to close on Jewish holy days as a two-year experiment because the absentee rate had still been fairly high when school was in session on those days in 1996 and 1997.

--Mark Walsh

Pledge Banned, Reinstated

A South Texas principal has reinstated the Pledge of Allegiance at his school after banning it for a few days because it mentions God.

Principal Mario Salinas of Edinburg North High School said he had prohibited the pledge on the advice of a lawyer for the 20,200-student Edinburg district. But the lawyer, Ray Lopez, denied that he had given such advice. He said he told administrators that the district could be sued--though with scant chance of success--over the phrase "one nation under God."

Religious practice in public schools has become an especially sensitive issue in Texas since a federal court ruling last February prohibited student-led public prayer at football games. The court said that sports contests were not solemn enough to merit public prayer.

--Bess Keller

Tiny District Goes Charter

Georgia's smallest district has been granted charter school status, which will bring to an end the busing of secondary school students to another district.

The Georgia school board this month approved the action for the 150-student Taliaferro County district. As a result, the district will be able to build a school to accommodate all its students. The school will be exempt from some building requirements, including those on size, Superintendent Renee Brown said.

The new school is expected to open in the summer of 2001.

--Linda Jacobson

Headmistress Sentenced to Jail

The former head of Nashville's Phoenix Academy has been sentenced to 2½ years in prison for defrauding parents.

Barbara Bachman, 54, opened the private K-8 school three years ago with the promise that the academy would serve the special needs of high-ability students. But questions about the school's finances arose almost immediately as teachers' first paychecks bounced. ("'Perfect' Private School Falls on Hard Times," Nov. 13, 1996.) The academy closed four months later.

She pleaded guilty to 22 counts of mail fraud for falsely telling parents that anonymous donors had contributed millions of dollars to the school. Along with the prison sentence imposed Sept. 7, a U.S. District Court judge ordered Ms. Bachman to pay $138,000 in restitution.

--Jeff Archer

Chief Guilty of Eavesdropping

A superintendent in Northern California has been convicted of felony eavesdropping for placing a camera inside a smoke detector in a principal's office without the principal's knowledge.

According to Thomas Buckwalter, the Modoc County district attorney, police found the camera this past May in the office of Dewey Pasquini, the principal of Modoc High School in Alturas.

The district's maintenance chief testified during the trial that, under orders from Superintendent Craig Drennan, he routinely changed the tapes that recorded all the action in the principal's office 24 hours a day, five days a week, from last December to March.

Mr. Drennan told the court that the recordings were made in response to the principal's complaint that files were missing from his office. He has been on leave with full pay from the 1,200-student Modoc County district since the camera was found. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 12.

--Michelle Galley

Private Schools Get Aid

A foundation has given its largest donation to date to a school choice program to help private schools accommodate more children. Partners Advancing Values in Education, a nonprofit group set up to help low-income students attend private schools, this month received $3.25 million from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a Milwaukee-based philanthropy.

The money will be used to help improve private school facilities. State law allows up to 15,000 Milwaukee students to receive publicly subsidized tuition vouchers to attend private and religious schools, but only about half can be served at present.

--Candice Furlan

No Jail for Bomb Threats

Two New Hampshire youths responsible for making bomb threats received suspended jail sentences this month.

Benjamin Messenger, 18, a student at Hinsdale High School, and Aaron Leonard, 17, another Hinsdale resident, who attended Brattleboro Union High School in Vermont, were arrested for calling in bomb threats that shut down both schools in June.

--Adrienne D. Coles


Benjamin S. Bloom

Benjamin S. Bloom, an education professor and researcher at the University of Chicago whose work on early-childhood education influenced the creation of the federal Head Start preschool program, died Sept. 13. He was 86. He is best known for his 1956 work, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, which described a "hierarchy" of learning, beginning with factual knowledge and progressing to comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Translated into more than 50 languages, the book is still used as a guide in curriculum development. Mr. Bloom was also known for his theory of "mastery learning," which posited that all students were capable of learning and was reflected in many of the education changes of the 1980s and '90s.

--Linda Jacobson

Vol. 19, Issue 3, Page 4

Published in Print: September 22, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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