News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Pa. District To Post Religious Documents

School officials in Altoona, Pa., will soon add six other documents alongside the copies of the Ten Commandments and affirmations of humanism that are already displayed in each of the system’s 13 school libraries.

The 9,100-student district announced last week approval for the display of documents representing Judaism, the Wiccan faith, gay rights, the Bahai faith, and atheism.

Altoona schools are permitted to show approved historical or religious material for 25 school days—providing it does not disparage any individual, ethnic group, or religion.

The new documents were approved by the district’s Project Character Building program, created as a compromise to mollify parents who had argued for and against display of the Ten Commandments.

Thomas Bradley, a spokesman for the district, said opposition to the new documents had been minimal.

—Mark Jennings

Cleanup Proves Costly in Wash.

Classes were scheduled to resume this week at an elementary school in Toutle, Wash., after a two-week closure because of mold and high levels of dust and carbon dioxide in the air in some classrooms.

Tests revealed the problems at Toutle Lake Elementary School’s two buildings following staff complaints of headaches and sore throats. The ventilation system in the one building was repaired, cleaned, and disinfected.

However, the other building needs a new roof and walls and was scheduled to be only partially reopened. The 650-student district faces a choice of a major renovation or building a new school.

The cleanup has already cost approximately $250,000, and a major renovation could cost as much as $1.2 million, according to district officials. Voters will likely be asked to approve a bond issue to cover costs.

In the meantime, 125 students will move to the district’s combination middle and high school, and a local church.

—Naomi Greengrass

Alleged Hazing Leads to Charges

Alleged incidents of hazing have resulted in the arrest of eight members of a wrestling team at a Connecticut high school.

Police say that the Trumbull High School students inflicted numerous abuses on three younger team members, from shutting them in lockers and spitting on them to tying them up with tape. One victim claimed that other students held him down while they inserted the handle of plastic knife into his rectum, court documents say.

The incidents allegedly occurred throughout December and January. The parents of one of the victims brought the accusations to the attention of Trumbull school officials early last month. Three of the students face adult charges of unlawful restraint and assault, while the rest were referred to juvenile-justice authorities.

The incident has drawn national media attention to the 6,000-student district. Superintendent Ralph M. Iassogna said action would be taken to ensure that "nothing like this happens again."

—Jeff Archer

Fla. Checking Calculator Glitch

Students who used state-issued calculators on Florida’s recent tests may have received incorrect answers from the machines, state officials said.

The complaint originated last month in the Palm Beach school district after a student showed a math teacher that miscalculations could occur if numbers were punched in quickly enough on the Casio HS-10 calculators, according to Karen Chandler, a spokeswoman for the state education department.

About 17,500 middle and high school students used the state-issued calculators during the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, administered Feb. 15-17.

Ms. Chandler characterized the technological problem as minor and said that it was not expected to affect the test results.

Pat Carrasco, a spokeswoman for Casio Inc., in Trenton, N.J., said the malfunctions were an isolated incident that the company was investigating.

—Mark Jennings

Drawings in Ill. Test Questioned

Officials with the Illinois board of education are trying to determine how African-American characters from a children’s book were drawn as white in illustrations accompanying an excerpt from the story used in state tests.

The Illinois Standards Achievement Test, given Jan. 31 through Feb. 11 to 125,000 3rd graders, used an excerpt from More Stories Julian Tells, by Ann Cameron, for reading-comprehension questions. The book’s illustrations did not include people, and the story itself "seems race-neutral," according to the associate state superintendent for communications, Kim Knauer.

Glenn W.

The illustrator hired by the company that developed the test did not see the book, Ms. Knauer said.

She added that state Superintendent Glenn W. "Max" McGee had spoken with Ms. Cameron and apologized for the mistake. The author suggested sending a letter to teachers and students explaining the error, but the superintendent had not yet decided whether to do so, Ms. Knauer said last week.

—Naomi Greengrass

Youth Imprisonment on the Rise

The number of criminal offenders under the age of 18 serving time in adult prisons in the United States more than doubled between 1985 and 1997, according to a study released last week by the U.S. Department of Justice.

New admissions to state prisons of offenders under age 18 doubled from 3,400 in 1985 to 7,400 in 1997, representing about 2 percent of new admissions each year, the report from the department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found.

Most of the youths were convicted for violent offenses, such as robbery or assault.

Single copies of the report, "Profile of State Prisoners Under Age 18, 1985-97," are available by calling (800) 732-3277.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Mass. Cites Testing Irregularities

A state investigation into cheating on Massachusetts’ tests revealed some irregularities, but did not uncover widespread violations, state officials said last week.

The investigation uncovered several instances last year in which school officials gave students too much time or administered a test on the wrong day.

However, none of the irregularities led to invalidation of student scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.

Investigators did not find a "deliberate intent to influence test results unfairly," said David P. Driscoll, the state’s commissioner of education.

—David J. Hoff

Vol. 19, Issue 26, Page 4

Published in Print: March 8, 2000, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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