News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Phila. Board President To Step Down Dec. 1

Floyd Alston

Floyd Alston, the president of the Philadelphia school board, announced at last week's board meeting that he would resign from the nine-member panel effective Dec. 1.

His impending departure casts further uncertainty on the future of Superintendent David W. Hornbeck, whose tenure could be determined by the outcome of the city's mayoral election this week.

Mr. Alston has been a supporter of the often embattled superintendent.

Mayor Edward Rendell intends to appoint a replacement for Mr. Alston and three other board members whose terms expire in December by the time he leaves office Jan. 3, a spokesman from his office said.

Mr. Alston, 74, said he was leaving to spend more time with his family. He said his decision to step down with two years remaining in his term had nothing to do with politics. Mr. Alston has been on the board for 10 years, and has served as president for four.

--Robert C. Johnston

No Bible in Class, Court Says

A New Jersey elementary school teacher was correct not to let a student read a Bible story in class, a federal appeals court ruled last week.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, based in Philadelphia, backed a lower court's decision to dismiss a case against state and local school officials and teacher Grace Oliva, who taught at Maurice and Everett Haines Elementary School in Medford, N.J. The Medford Township district has about 2,700 students.

A parent of the student, whose name was kept confidential in court documents, filed the lawsuit, arguing that the 1st grader's First Amendment rights were violated when Ms. Oliva made the youngster read the Bible story to her alone, not to the entire class.

The appeals court ruling held that the teacher had "deftly" handled the situation and that her decisions did not show hostility toward religion or any preference to a particular faith.

--Alan Richard

Mercury-Scare Sequel

Cheerleaders and school employees at the Elizabeth Learning Center, a K-12 school in Cudahy, Calif., took to the phones recently to call parents of the school's 1,200 elementary students after learning that several unidentified students were exposed to mercury.

The incident marked the third time in two weeks that a California school has had to deal with students' potential exposure to the toxic substance. ("Mercury Exposure Closes Calif. Intermediate School," Oct. 27, 1999.)

After making the calls, school officials tracked down a 5th grade student who admitted to taking two mercury capsules from thermostats used in the school's air conditioning units.

Two remaining capsules have not yet been accounted for, but students returned to the school last week after local health officials deemed it safe, Principal Emilio Vasquez said.

--Jessica L. Sandham

Suit Over NHS Settled

Two Kentucky teenage mothers have earned permanent membership in the National Honor Society in the settlement of a federal lawsuit.

Chasity Glass and Somer Chipman Hurston won the honor and $999 each when the Grant County district last month settled the discrimination suit they had filed against it.

The former students claimed the 3,500-student district's high school denied their NHS applications because they became pregnant while they were single. Ms. Hurston later married. Both graduated from Grant County High School last spring and are now enrolled in college.

A federal judge had ordered that they be inducted into the society last spring, pending resolution of the suit. ("Teen Mothers Receive Honor," May 19, 1999.)

The district also promised it would not discriminate against sexually active students in the future, according to David A. Friedman, the general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union's Kentucky affiliate, which represented Ms. Glass and Ms. Hurston.

--David J. Hoff

Wrong Forms Used for Scores

CTB/McGraw-Hill, the testing company that recently miscalculated students' percentile rankings in six states, has encountered a new sort of glitch.

This time, the Monterey, Calif.-based test-maker, which publishes the popular TerraNova battery, printed math scores for 8th graders across New York state on forms normally used for reading scores.

"This had no effect on students' actual scores whatsoever," said William Jordan, a spokesman for McGraw-Hill, which owns CTB.

He said the new error was discovered before the forms were mailed to students' homes. CTB corrected the problem and last week began sending new versions to districts across the state.

The earlier mistakes had caused thousands of New York City students to be mistakenly sent to summer school or held back a grade. ("Error Affects Test Results in Six States," Sept. 29, 1999.)

--Debra Viadero

Rough Start for S.C. Test

Nearly half of South Carolina's 8th graders failed to meet the minimum math score on the state's new standardized test.

The first public results of the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Tests were released last month, and as state leaders expected, scores across grades and subjects were low.

State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum said the scores emphasized the need for more teacher training in helping students learn not just facts about various topics, but also critical-thinking skills.

The old test--which had passing rates of more than 80 percent in some subjects--was not based on the state's new academic standards.

--Alan Richard

Sex Education Must Go On

A federal judge has turned down a New Hampshire man's request to keep his daughters out of sex education while a lawsuit over the issue is pending.

Michael Beadle sued the 1,829-student Winnisquam district on religious grounds, saying sex education should be taught at home. Mr. Beadle had sought an emergency ruling to keep his daughters-one in middle school and one in high school-out of school health classes that include sex education until the suit is resolved.

The U.S. District Court in Concord, N.H., denied his request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction last month. The judge said the request was inadequately supported.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Girls Charged With Sex Crime

Two teenage girls have been charged with inducing a 12-year-old girl who shared a foster home with them to have sex for pay with boys at a high school in Detroit.

The Cooley High School girls, ages 14 and 15, were charged last month with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, said Nancy Diehl, a prosecutor for Wayne County, Mich., which includes the 174,000-student Detroit district.

The girls allegedly persuaded the 12-year-old to perform oral sex on boys who paid $1 while the older girls stood guard. Police reports said the 12-year-old has emotional and mental disabilities.

A 17-year-old boy from the school has also been charged with one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct for having sex with the youngster. Authorities said they were looking for other male students who also allegedly participated.

--Bess Keller

Unusual Outreach in Illinois

In an effort to boost enrollment, one Illinois school district is marketing itself to parents in surrounding areas. The Taylorville Community Unit School District 3 has distributed pamphlets that say, "If you are considering moving, please consider Taylorville. Taylorville schools are A-plus," according to Richard Wilson, the superintendent of the 2,800-student district.

The district has consistently scored above average on statewide assessment tests, Mr. Wilson said.

Officials from the neighboring 14,700-student Springfield district think the campaign may cause them to lose students, said a spokeswoman.

--Michelle Galley

Center Targets Violence

A new violence-prevention center, spearheaded by the National Mental Health Association in conjunction with the National Association of School Psychologists, will open in January in Alexandria, Va.

By investing in children's health and resiliency, the government is investing in the future, according to Michael Faenza, the NMHA's president and chief executive officer.

Prompted by recent school shootings, the center will be financed through a $9 million grant from the U.S. departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Justice.

The center will create model programs and disseminate information to help districts nationwide build safer schools.

--Meghan Mullan

Vol. 19, Issue 10, Page 4

Published in Print: November 3, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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Clarification: In "Suit Over NHS Settled," the settlement between the Grant County, Ky., school district and the American Civil Liberties Union contained a provision stating that the district may consider sexual activity in granting membership in the organization "so long as such consideration does not have the purpose or effect of treating students differently on any of the bases" prohibited by federal sex-discrimination law.

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