News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Race-Based Transfer Denial Is Overturned on Appeal

The Montgomery County, Md., schools erred in denying a 7-year-old white student admission to a magnet school because of his race, a federal appeals court ruled last week.

Jacob Eisenberg, who is white, requested a transfer in May 1998 to the magnet program in math and science at Rosemary Hills Elementary School.

His request was denied under a district policy that seeks to avoid racial isolation at some schools. Just 24 percent of the students in his neighborhood school are white, compared with 54 percent countywide.

Last fall, a federal district court rejected a request by the student's parents to allow the transfer. But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va., overturned that ruling. Basing the denial on the child's race was unconstitutional, the panel said in its Oct. 6 decision.

Patricia Brannan, the lawyer who represented the 129,000-student system, said the district would have to examine the decision and how it might play out. She added that Jacob will need to be placed in Rosemary Hills.

--Robert C. Johnston

Wait for Schedules Ends

School officials in Lawrence, Mass., have put an end to a 20-year-old practice of sending new students home until guidance counselors could find time to schedule their classes.

About 35 students who arrived at Lawrence High School after the school year began last month were caught in the shuffle, in which the school's eight guidance counselors were swamped with scheduling problems and changes for the 2,000 students already enrolled.

The school's new principal and the district's superintendent were unaware that the newest students were sent home and told to come back in one to seven days, when the counselors would have time to fit them into classes.

By Oct. 1, all the students had been given schedules and Superintendent Mae E. Gaskins discontinued the policy. In the future, she said, some counselors will be assigned exclusively to new students.

--Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Mayoral Takeover Prevails

A federal court has again upheld last year's state-mandated takeover of the Cleveland schools by Mayor Michael R. White.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, based in Cincinnati, agreed Sept. 30 with a district court ruling that the takeover was constitutional.

State legislation passed in 1997 empowered the mayor to pick the nine-member school board for the troubled 77,000-student district.

The plaintiffs, including the Cleveland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, argued that the law violates equal-protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

In its decision, the appellate panel also ruled that the state was protected from the plaintiffs' claims by the 11th Amendment, which prohibits most lawsuits against states in federal court.

--Robert C. Johnston

Yonkers Strike Settled

Teachers in Yonkers, N.Y., went back to work last week after a three-day strike over an unpopular block-scheduling plan for middle and high schools and attempts to change transfer procedures for elementary teachers.

The 2,100 members of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, voted to accept a two-year contract that calls for discontinuing the block scheduling next month. A joint labor-management committee will then examine possibilities for a new schedule next fall.

The union agreed to place restrictions on the rights of teachers to transfer. Teachers who receive 20 hours of training will have to remain in their positions for one school year. The district had sought to stabilize transfers by elementary teachers in an effort to raise test scores.

--Ann Bradley

Students Play Choking Game

Some middle school students in Framingham, Mass., have been engaging in a dangerous new "game" that involves choking and passing out, school officials there say.

More than a dozen boys and girls at the 900-student Walsh Middle School and the 900-student Fuller Middle School have been caught playing the game, according to Superintendent Mark C. Smith.

The game is intended to give participants a "head rush," he said. After one person hyperventilates, a partner wraps his hands around that person's neck to cut off breathing until he or she passes out.

The schools sent out letters last week warning parents of the game's potential dangers, which include seizures, permanent injuries, and death.

--Kerry A. White

Substitute Surprise in N.Y.C.

Thomas L. Williams

A New York City man who allegedly impersonated a teacher and worked as a full-time substitute at three different elementary schools for more than three years has been arrested.

According to a spokeswoman for the deputy commissioner of investigations for the New York City board of education, Thomas L. Williams, 33, used the Social Security number of a former city teacher, Thomas E. Williams, to gain employment. Thomas E. Williams received collection notices from the Internal Revenue Service for wages earned after he moved out of the city. His report of the discrepancy spurred the investigation.

Thomas L. Williams was charged last month with grand larceny, forgery, falsifying business records, and criminal impersonation, according to the Manhattan district attorney's office. Mr. Williams pleaded not guilty to all charges this month.

--Michelle Galley

Columbine Video Shelved

The Littleton, Colo., fire department has agreed not to use a video it made for training purposes that contains graphic footage of the library at Columbine High School in the aftermath of the shooting spree that claimed 15 lives at the school, according to officials of the Jefferson County district.

Marilyn Saltzman, a spokeswoman for the 89,000-student district, located near Littleton, expressed concern that the videotape would have a detrimental effect on the families recovering from the incident.

The video for training police, fire, and emergency-response personnel was compiled two months after the school shootings this past April.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Detained Girl's Parents Sue

The parents of a Florida girl sent to a psychiatric unit last year after allegedly acting violently in kindergarten have filed a lawsuit in state court against the Palm Beach County school board.

Anthony and Lavater Potts claim that their daughter suffered emotional distress as a 6-year-old kindergartner at the 1,000-student Roosevelt Elementary School when officials overreacted to a temper tantrum by calling school police officers, who took the child to a nearby mental-health hospital for evaluation. The child was held overnight.

Steven W. Gomberg, a lawyer representing the Potts family, said the idea of taking such a young child to a mental facility was "appalling." But school officials counter that involuntary commitments are legal when students pose a threat to themselves or others.

Cynthia Prettyman, a lawyer for the district, said the girl attacked a boy and "they couldn't pull her hands off his neck."

--Jessica L. Sandham

School Officer Dies in Struggle

Police have charged a high school student in Georgia with involuntary manslaughter following the death of a school police officer who had restrained the student.

Carnel Cook, 44, an officer with the Fulton County district force for nine years, died Sept. 30 of a heart attack. He had responded to a fight at the 2,000-student Tri-Cities High School in East Point.

East Point police have also charged the youth with obstruction of law enforcement, according to a district spokesman.

--Candice Furlan

Tribal Colleges Get Millions

The Lilly Endowment unveiled a $30 million gift to repair facilities and aid faculty members at 30 tribal colleges from California to Michigan.

The grant, announced late last month, is among the sizable donations the Indianapolis-based foundation has given this year to aid minority institutions in higher education.

The money will go toward revamping facilities and financial aid for a variety of faculty activities.

Tribal colleges enroll some 26,000 students on 32 campuses, according to Suzette Brewer, a spokeswoman for the Denver-based American Indian College Fund, the organization that will administer the funds.

--Julie Blair

Vol. 19, Issue 7, Page 4

Published in Print: October 13, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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