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Ban on Religious Display Upheld by Federal Court

When officials at Downey High School in Southern California prevented a paid advertisement that displayed the Ten Commandments from being placed on the centerfield fence of the school’s baseball field, they did not violate the U.S. Constitution, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, ruled without dissent that the 19,600-student district could "exclude subjects from the nonpublic forum that would be disruptive to the educational purpose of the school."

A lawsuit was filed in 1996 by a local businessman who claimed his First Amendment rights to free speech were violated after his paid billboard was removed because of its religious content.

The school’s booster club sold space for billboards to raise money for the baseball program at the 2,700-student high school in Downey. That fund-raising effort has since been discontinued.

--Robert C. Johnston

Power Play in Oakland

Mayor Jerry Brown of Oakland formally asked the City Council last week to approve placing a measure on the upcoming March 7 ballot that would give him the power to appoint three new members to the city’s seven-member school board.

The Democratic mayor and former California governor, who has vowed to shake up the local school establishment, also wants the council to approve for the spring ballot a citywide resolution to establish nonbinding reform goals for the 53,000-student school district.

--Robert C. Johnston

Gun Brings Pre-K Suspension

A 4-year-old boy who began prekindergarten this fall was suspended for one year after he brought his mother’s loaded pistol to class in Oklahoma’s Putnam City School District, school officials said.

The two-shot, .38-caliber gun was loaded with hollow-point bullets, which are designed to maximize damage to a target by flattening on impact.

The boy’s teacher—who searched the child’s backpack after discovering him playing with a toy gun that he had also brought to school—found the weapon. It was confiscated by a campus police officer after the boy’s principal at the 690-student Tulakes Elementary School got in touch with authorities.

David Klaassen, a spokesman for the 19,500-student district, in a suburb of Oklahoma City, said the boy’s parents declined to appear for a due process hearing scheduled a week after the incident. Such a refusal is common, he said, if the parents have no reason to contest the suspension.

--Meghan Mullan

Athlete’s Penalty Upheld

A judge has upheld a one-year suspension for a high school athlete in Monett, Mo., who directed an obscene gesture toward his basketball coach during a game.

Heath Newman, a 16-year- old sophomore, will be eligible to compete in high school sports in the state as of March 20, said a spokesman for the Missouri State High School Association, which oversees interscholastic sports in that state.

Lawyers for Mr. Newman, who was a freshman at 560-student Monett High School at the time of the incident, requested an injunction against it. Lawrence County Judge Larry Meyer turned down that request Nov. 1. Mr. Newman was suspended after raising his middle fingers behind his coach’s back during a game last February.

His mother, Julie Newman, described him as a good student and gifted athlete who was "looking forward to putting the incident behind him."

--Kerry A. White

S.F. To Revise Diversity Plan

A federal judge overseeing the San Francisco Unified School District’s creation of a new student-enrollment plan has warned that a recent proposal put forth by school officials may be unconstitutional because it relies on race to assign students to schools.

U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick Jr. sent the plan back to officials of the 64,000-student district Nov. 1 for more work. He gave them until Nov. 12 to explain "in plain English" how using race or ethnicity in assigning students to schools could be constitutional.

District spokeswoman Elaine Koury said the district, which has asked for a two-week extension of that deadline, was working on a revised plan.

The plan was devised as part of a settlement last February in a lawsuit brought by Chinese-American families whose children were rejected by their schools of choice due to racial quotas.

The deal was part of a broader settlement that will bring the district’s 16-year-old desegregation plan to a close by 2002. ("San Francisco Desegregation Decree To End," Feb. 24, 1999.)

--Kerry A. White

Racial Forum Goes Awry

An Idaho principal turned in his resignation Nov. 4 after an assembly at his school resulted in racially motivated fighting. Principal Ralph Kern of the 1,000-student Skyview High School in Nampa had invited a speaker to discuss racial problems between Mexican-American and white students.

Police officers responded to fights that broke out, forcing the event to be cancelled and leading to 30 student suspensions. According to a press release from the 10,000-student Nampa school district, Mr. Kern has taken full responsibility for what happened.

Superintendent Gary Larsen did not accept Mr. Kern’s resignation and assigned him to a position in the district developing academic offerings.

--Candice Furlan

School Board Member Resigns

A Pike County, Ky., school board member who returned from an eight-month suspension earlier this year resigned last week amid claims that he had tried to influence hiring in the 11,000-student district.

Under the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act, it is illegal for a board member to influence hiring within a district, according to Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education.

W. Keith Hall, a local businessman, said he never directed that anyone in particular be hired and that he kept the best interest of students in mind during his time on the five-member board.

–Meghan Mullan

Iowa Threats Lead to Charges

A Stanwood, Iowa, freshman accused of threatening to pull his school’s fire alarm and shoot his classmates as they left the building has been charged as a juvenile with terrorism and harassment.

School officials met with the North Cedar High School 9th grader and his mother in late October after students told the principal he was making threats. The boy claimed he was only joking, said Richard Hobart, the superintendent of the 1,000-student North Cedar Community School District.

He was given a warning. When students reported hearing him make more threats, school officials confirmed the reports and had him removed from school. The boy could face a one-year suspension from the 300-student school. A hearing has been set for Dec. 6.

--Adrienne D. Coles

New Voucher Figures Posted

About one-fourth of the 8,019 students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program during the current school year attended public school last year, new numbers from the state education department show.

Some 1,909 students transferred from the 100,700-student Milwaukee public schools district to private or religious schools this fall, said Robert Lannoye, a financial specialist with the voucher program.

During the 1998-99 school year, 6,194 students were enrolled in the program. That year, 1,433 students transferred in from the Milwaukee public schools.

The 9-year-old program supplies publicly funded tuition vouchers of up to $5,000 to families whose family income does not exceed the poverty level.

--Julie Blair

Kinkel Sentenced for Shootings

An Oregon judge last week sentenced 17-year-old Kipland P. "Kip'' Kinkel to nearly 112 years in prison, the equivalent of life without parole, for the school shootings and the murders of his parents he carried out in May of last year.

Mr. Kinkel, then a freshman, opened fire in the cafeteria of Thurston High School in Springfield, Ore., nearly 18 months ago, killing two students and injuring 22 others. ("Two Students Die, 22 Injured in Ore. Rampage," May 27, 1998.)

In September, Mr. Kinkel pleaded guilty to killing Thurston High students Mikael Nickolauson and Ben Walker, as well as his own parents earlier the same day. He also pleaded guilty to 26 counts of attempted murder.

Judge Jack Mattison of the Lane County Circuit Court handed down a sentence of 111.67 years in prison: 25 for the four murders and 40 additional months for each of the counts of attempted murder.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Vol. 19, Issue 12, Page 4

Published in Print: November 17, 1999, as News in Brief
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