News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Judge Cites School Inequities

A judge's ruling that Alaska is violating the state constitution and discriminating against rural residents could lead to changes in the way the state pays for school buildings.

Superior Court Judge John Reese ruled in Anchorage this month that the legislature has failed to meet a constitutional requirement to provide students with a basic education, since some schools, particularly in rural areas, have sagging roofs, terrible overcrowding, and undrinkable running water.

Judge Reese said the state treated students in city schools differently from those in rural areas, who are mostly Native American.

A parents' group called Citizens for the Educational Advancement of Alaska's Children filed the suit in hopes that the state would increase funding for school buildings and repairs.

State officials didn't say immediately whether they planned to appeal. Commissioner of Education Richard S. Cross called on lawmakers to change the way school construction is funded. Currently, the state relies on grants.

--Alan Richard

Bill Would Protect Gay Students in Calif.

California Gov. Gray Davis is weighing whether to sign a bill designed to protect homosexual students from violence or harassment linked to their sexual orientation.

After four years of effort by the bill's sponsor, Democratic Assemblywoman Sheila James Kuehl, the legislature passed the measure this month. If signed by the governor, the bill would add actual or perceived sexual orientation to an existing state law that prohibits discrimination in public schools and colleges based on a person's disability, race, ethnic group, or gender.

"Harassment against any student because of sexual orientation is outlawed" in the bill, said Robin Podolsky, a spokeswoman for Ms. Kuehl. "In the past, sometimes principals and teachers haven't had the will to intervene. This mandates that they do that and empowers school boards to take necessary actions."

Gov. Davis, a Democrat, has not yet decided whether to sign the bill, spokesman Michael Bustamante said last week.

--Jessica L. Sandham

Books Sought for Blind Students in N.C.

Choosing and paying for textbooks are perennial challenges for most schools, but even more so when they're being used by blind students.

In North Carolina, which has about 100 blind students, officials are considering requiring publishers to provide copies of texts on computer disk, to make it easier to translate and print them in Braille.

"If a student does not have the textbook he or she needs, then obviously they are not getting the materials needed for education," said Tom Winton, a consultant on the visually impaired and assistive technology for the state education department.

Textbooks printed in Braille, a writing system that uses patterns of raised dots, are more difficult and costly to produce.

Brand-new volumes and those filled with photos and graphics require extensive reformatting. A single standard textbook can swell to as many as 30 volumes when translated into Braille and can cost up to $15,000 for a first edition.

--Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Vol. 19, Issue 3, Page 16

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