News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Kansas Deseg. Oversight Ends With Court Ruling

The Kansas City, Mo., school system has done what it can to eliminate segregation and provide black students with equal educational opportunities, a federal court ruled last week.

The ruling, handed down Nov. 17 by U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple, ends one of the nation's most expensive and closely watched school desegregation lawsuits. The case began in 1977, when a group of parents sued to force improvements in largely black, inner-city schools, and led to court-ordered spending of some $2 billion to upgrade the system's facilities and academic offerings.

Benjamin Demps Jr., the superintendent of the 37,000-student district, cheered last week's ruling, saying it brought with it "tremendous opportunity and great responsibility'' for the district.Though Judge Whipple's ruling freed the district from federal oversight, it upheld the state board of education's action last month to revoke the accreditation of the Kansas City schools as of next May. (K.C. Wants Court To Block Deaccreditation, Nov. 3, 1999.)

—Kerry A. White

Expulsion Challenged

A student is fighting his expulsion from a private high school for posting material on a home-based Web site that school officials deemed inappropriate.

Peter Ubriaco, 15, filed suit against Albertus Magnus High School in federal district court in New York City last week, seeking reinstatement at the Bardonia, N.Y., Roman Catholic school as well as a cleared record and $1 million in damages. The boy's lawyer, George Shebitz, said that because the World Wide Web site was set up from Mr. Ubriaco's home through a commercial Internet service, its contents were no business of the school's.

But the school's president, Joseph Troy, said private schools have more latitude in judging students' outside behavior.

Last school year, the then-9th grader put what was considered inappropriate material on a personal Web page sponsored by the 480-student school. After officials took that page down, the student posted similar materials from home.

—Andrew Trotter

Curtains for 'West Side Story'

High school officials in Amherst, Mass., have cancelled plans for a student production of "West Side Story" after some students complained the award-winning musical contains negative stereotypes of Puerto Ricans.

More than 150 of the 1,300 students at Amherst Regional High School last month petitioned the district's school board, objecting to the portrayal of Puerto Ricans in the 1957 play.

The play sets the story of Romeo and Juliet in the midst of a New York City gang war. Some Puerto Rican parents and students expressed opposition to any censorship of the play.

Wendy Kohler, the school's curriculum coordinator and co-director of annual musical productions, said "in the current climate" it is better not to produce the play.

Amherst Regional's enrollment is approximately 7 percent Hispanic. The school plans to hold ongoing discussions with teachers, students, and parents about academic freedom, the themes in the play, and the selection of appropriate material for future productions.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Mock Shooting, Shock Injury

A safety drill at a Connecticut high school proved less than safe for a guard on duty at the building's entrance.

Cecilia Lynch, who works as a security guard at East Hartford High School, sustained burns and bleeding earlier this month when a police officer fired a gun loaded with blank ammunition at her chest. The officer, Jon Stosuy, was acting the part of a gunman during a mock invasion of the building designed to prepare faculty members for an incident similar to the shootings last April at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Twenty to 25 police officers were at the school preparing an emergency-response team and informing staff members about safety measures. Mr. Stosuy and another officer entered the front of the building and Ms. Lynch, stationed at her post, asked whether she could help the officers. Mr. Stosuy then shot her at point-blank range, according to Ms. Lynch's lawyer, Dennis Hersh.

A spokesman for the East Hartford police, Hugo Benetieri, said Mr. Stosuy was not supposed to point his gun at anyone. The gunshot injured Ms. Lynch because gunpowder in the barrel burned a hole through her clothes, said Mr. Benetieri, who called the incident an "unfortunate mistake."

Ms. Lynch and her lawyer have filed a claim against the town of East Hartford.

—Meghan Mullan

Chicago Bans Rifle Ranges

Chicago school officials have decided to eliminate all Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps marksmanship and rifle-training classes from district schools.

Paul Vallas, the chief executive officer of the 431,000-student district, announced two weeks ago the immediate termination of rifle courses for the 8,700 students enrolled in the JROTC program in 41 Chicago schools.

The decision was made because the U.S. Army Cadet Command no longer mandates rifle training, Mr. Vallas said, and the training contributes neither to the district's focus on academics nor to its zero-tolerance policy for students caught with a gun in or out of school.

—Candice Furlan

Chief Quits Over Gun Comment

An Ohio superintendent who suggested arming teachers to defend themselves in case of a school shooting has resigned after criticism from parents and the school board.

Under a tentative agreement reached with the board Nov. 11, John Varis, the chief of the 1,400-student Reading Community City School District, will go on administrative leave immediately, and his resignation will take effect Jan. 1.

Mr. Varis has been with the district 13 years.

He has been criticized since last month for the comments he made about arming teachers for students' protection.

According to The Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland, Mr. Varis said he was merely considering possible school safety ideas, and his comments were taken out of context.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Rifle Lead Pollutes School

An elementary school in Lynbrook, N.Y., closed for two days after toxic levels of airborne lead were found in a basement rifle range.

Superintendent William Metkiff of the 3,000-student Lynbrook district said Marion Street Elementary School was closed to ensure student and staff safety following environmental testing.

Mr. Metkiff said he had the rifle range tested because a local resident objected to its presence and he hoped to demonstrate the shooting range was not an environmental hazard.

But the range was shown to have a malfunctioning exhaust system and will now be dismantled, Mr. Metkiff said.

"We think the district handled the situation quite well," said Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the New York state education department.

—Meghan Mullan

Sex-Change Case Settled

A high school teacher in Antelope, Calif., suspended after revealing plans to have a sex-change operation, has resigned and accepted a $150,000 settlement from the school district.

Dana Rivers, a journalism and history teacher at Center High School for more than eight years, has been on paid leave since August, when the school board accused him of inappropriately discussing his decision with students. The teacher, previously known as David Warfield, denied discussing the matter in the classroom.

Following the teacher's announcement to the school board in May that a lifelong medical condition would lead him to undergo a sex change, the board decided he was unfit to teach and began dismissal procedures.

The teacher sued the district for allegedly violating California's open-meetings law when the board convened in closed session to suspend him. As part of the settlement, he and the Center Unified Teachers Association agreed to drop the lawsuit.

John Gehring

Internet Filter Causes Static

The New York City Board of Education's one-size-fits-all approach to blocking certain online sites has raised the hackles of some educators.

Jan Shakofsky, a government and history teacher at the 4,255-student Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Queens, was unhappy to find that I-Gear—a filtering technology—kept her students from Web sites created by resources such as The New York Times and the National Rifle Association.

Her response was to invite a New York Civil Liberties Union representative to talk about censorship and civil rights. The invitation expanded into a meeting in which parents, students, school administrators, and a representative of the school board discussed the filtering process.

Chad Vignola, general counsel for Schools Chancellor Rudoph F. Crew, said that the board chose to set I-Gear so it would block Web sites using the same approach for kindergarten through high school, with the assumption that staff members would be able to modify the filter settings.

By the end of November, each community school district should have someone who is trained to modify the filter to fit the needs of particular schools.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Vol. 19, Issue 13, Page 4

Published in Print: November 24, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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