News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Former Superintendent Steps in for Schools Chief

Massachusetts Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll has appointed Eugene F. Thayer, a former superintendent of the 11,600- student Lawrence public schools, to oversee the district while its current chief remains under investigation for allegedly mismanaging funds.

Massachusetts Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll has appointed Eugene F. Thayer, a former superintendent of the 11,600- student Lawrence public schools, to oversee the district while its current chief remains under investigation for allegedly mismanaging funds.

Superintendent Mae E. Gaskins has come under scrutiny for spending $600,000 on out-of-state consultants and sharing a penthouse with one of the consultants even as the district struggled financially.

Mayor Patricia A. Dowling, who heads the Lawrence school committee, asked the state education department for the former superintendent's help. Mr. Thayer led the Lawrence schools from 1979 until 1987, then served as superintendent in Framingham, Mass., until his retirement in 1996.

It is not clear how long he will remain in the position. The school committee is scheduled to question Ms. Gaskins about the consulting contracts Feb. 10.

—John Gehring

Students Die in Plane Crash

Four children from the same elementary school in Seattle were among the 88 people who died in last week's Alaska Airlines crash off the California coast.

Three 1st graders and a 2nd grader from John Hay Elementary School, along with their parents and siblings, perished in the crash Jan. 31.

Seattle residents were "very grief-stricken" because the families had been together through the preschool and elementary years, school district spokeswoman Lynn Steinberg said.

Superintendent Joseph Olchefske, whose daughter attends kindergarten at the 500-student school, helped console the teachers, children, and parents who knew the victims.

—Alan Richard

Ky. Teachers Want 'Evolution'

The Kentucky Science Teachers Association is urging the state to insert the term "evolution" into its curriculum framework.

The Kentucky Department of Education has sought to avoid controversy by referring to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution as "change over time" in official curriculum documents.

"Educational opportunities should not be limited to semantics," the board of the science teachers' group said in a position statement issued Jan. 21.

"We'll be taking the statement into consideration along with all of the other statements we've received," said Lisa Y. Gross, a spokeswoman for the department.

—David J. Hoff

L.A. Teachers Caught Cheating

One teacher has been fired and 10 others will be disciplined after officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District caught them cheating on state tests.

Before giving the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition to students at the 3,100- student Banning High School last spring, the 11 teachers gained access to questions and copied them on the science section of the exam. The teachers used the test to tailor their instruction to 9th and 10th graders, district officials discovered after an eight-month investigation.

The district fired the teacher who organized the cheating, according to Shel Erlich, a district spokesman, and is still deciding what penalties will be assessed against the other teachers.

Ramon C. Cortines, the interim superintendent of the 700,000-student district, said that because of the cheating, Banning High's science scores would not be considered part of the state's school-by-school report card.

—David J. Hoff

Mississippi First in Paddling

One out of every eight schoolchildren in Mississippi is struck with a paddle by a teacher, making the corporal- punishment rate in that state the highest in the nation, according to a report by an advocacy group.

"Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public Schools," released late last month, was compiled from U.S. Department of Education data by the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools, a nonprofit organization based in Columbus, Ohio.

It said 12.4 percent of Mississippi's 502,000 public school children got paddled at least once during the 1996-97 school year.

Mississippi does not have a corporal- punishment policy, but local school boards have the authority to adopt such policies for their schools, said Steve Williams, a special assistant to the state superintendent.

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have banned corporal punishment.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Girls Face Assault Charges

Three teenage girls in Boston have been charged with assaulting a 16-year-old female classmate they had seen holding hands with another girl.

The incident allegedly occurred on a subway train Jan. 28 after the three students, from the 700-student Boston High School, accused their classmate of being a lesbian and, according to reports, groped the student and ripped her clothes.

Two 15-year-olds and one 17-year-old have been charged with indecent assault and battery and civil rights violations.

Even though the alleged incident occurred away from school grounds, the ride to and from school is considered by district officials to be part of the school day, according to Tracey Lynch, the spokeswoman for the Boston district. The district has begun disciplinary proceedings.

—John Gehring

Children Learn About Work

President Clinton, city mayors, and one former U.S. chief executive were among the adults who invited a schoolchild to "shadow" them last week on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2.

For the fourth year in a row, the National School-to-Work Office, administered by the U.S. departments of labor and education in Washington, along with several other organizations, sponsored the National Groundhog Job Shadow Day, which gives children the chance to accompany adults as they carry out their work duties.

Ruth J. Martinez, the communications manager for the school-to-work office, estimated that 1 million children participated in the event last week, which is double the number who participated in 1999.

Former President George Bush, San Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr., Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams, and the U.S. secretaries of education and transportation all welcomed "shadows."

—Mary Ann Zehr

Detroit Veto Power Under Fire

A Michigan state legislator has vowed to change the law that allowed Gov. John Engler's appointee to veto the Detroit school board's choice for chief executive officer of the district. The resulting deadlock triggered a new search for a chief for the 174,000- student system.

Rep. Hansen Clarke, a Democrat from Detroit, told the school board at the end of last month that he would introduce legislation to strip away the appointee's special power.

Earlier in January, Mark Murray, the state treasurer and the governor's appointee to the seven-member "reform" board, blocked the appointment of Tulsa Superintendent John Thompson, who was favored by five of the seven other members.

The law that created the reform board—whose other members are named by the city's mayor—requires that the governor's appointee endorse any choice for district CEO.

Gov. Engler, a Republican whose party controls both houses of the legislature, has said he does not want a change.

—Bess Keller

Five Injured in Chemistry Class

Four students and a teacher were injured in a high school chemistry-class explosion late last month in Battle Creek, Mich.

One girl was transferred to a burn center in nearby Kalamazoo, where her condition was upgraded from critical to serious last week. The other students and the teacher were treated and released at a local hospital.

The experiment involved pouring methanol into a petri dish with the metal halides, to show how metals give off different colors of light.

It was a routine experiment that the teacher had successfully demonstrated earlier that day, said Bob Stevens, the superintendent of the 3,400-student Lakeview district. But in this instance the chemicals ignited and sent a fireball through the classroom, he said.

The district is investigating the Jan. 28 accident, Mr. Stevens said, and plans to hire a consultant to find ways to prevent further accidents.

—Joetta L. Sack

Vol. 19, Issue 22, Page 4

Published in Print: February 9, 2000, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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