News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Access and School Choice Key to Deseg. Settlement

The Minneapolis school district has settled a desegregation lawsuit by agreeing to a plan that gives inner-city schoolchildren better access to higher-quality programs within the city and to suburban schools.

Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson announced the basic outline of the settlement last week. It would use the state's open-enrollment laws to make magnet schools and other suburban schools more easily available to city students and would set up a four-year program to produce a school report card allowing parents to compare and monitor the performance of the schools in the district. Of the district's 49,000 students, 70 percent are from racial minorities, and most are black.

Clarence Hightower, the president of the Minneapolis Urban League, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that the settlement was "on the right track." The 5-year-old lawsuit, filed against the state by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, had attacked the "hypersegregation" that the NAACP said made it impossible to provide urban students with a strong education.

—Catherine Gewertz

'Indifference' Leads to Liability

In one of the largest awards ever in a teacher sex-abuse case, a federal jury this month ordered the Alexandria, Va., school board and a former elementary school principal to pay more than $1 million for being "deliberately indifferent" to indications that a teacher was molesting a student.

The jury in the March 10 decision ordered the 11,000-student school system to pay $700,000, and the school's principal to pay $350,000, to Jackson Baynard, who had claimed he was abused by his teacher, Craig Lawson, beginning in 1990, when he was a 6th grader at Charles Barrett Elementary School.

Robert Bullock, who represented Mr. Baynard, now a 21-year-old college student, said the principal had failed to follow up on allegations between 1990 and 1991 that the teacher was victimizing children on and off campus.

Frank Prior, a lawyer representing the school board, said school officials hadn't had enough evidence to take disciplinary action, and that they planned to ask the federal judge this week to throw out the jury's verdict.

After he left the district, the teacher was convicted of abuse involving another student and is now in prison.

—Jessica Portner

N.J. District Sued by Parents

Three New Jersey parents are suing their local school district over a survey of student attitudes and behavior allegedly taken without parental consent.

Administrators of the 5,000-student Ridgewood school system 15 miles outside of New York City are accused of polling 2,100 students last fall in grades 7-12 about their sexual habits, family relationships, and drug and alcohol use, without first obtaining legally required written consent from parents. The parents, whose names were not included in the complaint filed Feb. 26 in U.S. District Court in Newark, also allege the school failed to tell students the survey was voluntary and to ensure it was anonymous. ("Parental Rights at Issue in Probe of Student Survey," Jan. 26, 2000.)

The three parents and two others had also filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education. The agency last week suspended its investigation into the complaints of the three parents who are suing. A department spokesman said the action was standard procedure for the agency in cases where lawsuits are filed.

The school district had no comment.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Hidden Message Takes Prize

A 17-year-old high school senior has won a $100,000 college scholarship for writing a computer-encryption code that is almost impossible to crack.

Vivian Risca, a student at Paul D. Schreiber Senior High School in Port Washington, N.Y., captured the first prize in the annual Intel Science Talent Search for her program that hides messages inside strands of DNA. Because gene sequences can be formed into trillions of different strands, it is virtually impossible for a hacker to break into the file, Ms. Risca says.

The 59-year-old Science Talent Search Contest, formerly run by Westinghouse, is the nation's most prestigious high school scie

—David J. Hoff

Md. Teacher Falsely Accused

Seven Maryland 6th graders are facing punishment for falsely accusing a male gym teacher of watching the girls undress and fondling them in the locker room.

The students, six girls and a boy, attend the 750-student Roberto Clemente Middle School in Germantown, Md. They were arrested March 13 and charged as juveniles with making false statements to police. Authorities said they made up the charges after the teacher yelled at them for talking during a game in February.

Their story broke down shortly after Montgomery County, Md., police began their investigation, said Sgt. Richard Cage, the officer in charge of case. Potential penalties include community service, a diversion program, or teen court. The students also were suspended from school for 10 days and could face further punishment from the 128,000-student Montgomery County district.

The teacher, Ronald Heller, who had been suspended with pay and ordered to leave the school, returned to work last week.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Grant Aids St. Paul Councils

The St. Paul, Minn., school system has received a $2.35 million grant from the McKnight Foundation, based in Minneapolis, to involve more people in school decisionmaking. The grant, the largest private award ever received by the 45,000-student district, will pay for recruitment and training of school council members and evaluation of their effectiveness.

Under the district's strategic plan, each school is to have an effective council in place. But, even though such panels have existed in the district for about 10 years, only about half of St. Paul's 70 schools had active site-based councils when this school year began. By the end of June, all are expected to have them.

The grant, which will pay for programs through June of next year, will focus on helping members define school goals, shape policy and procedures, and solve problems.

—Ann Bradley

Fire Up the (Soy) Burgers

Schools and child-care centers that serve federally subsidized meals now have the option of serving vegetarian meals, thanks to a recent regulatory change from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The change, announced March 9, lifts the limit on the amount of nonmeat proteins that can be used in school lunches, as well as a requirement that the alternative proteins be fortified with iron and zinc.

Proponents who wrote to the USDA to comment on the regulation said the changes would give menu planners more flexibility. Menu items such as soy-based vegetable burgers and hot dogs can be added to school lunches.

Those opposed to the change said that it is difficult for children to get enough vital nutrients when meat is taken out of their diets. The change takes effect April 10.

—Michelle Galley

Students Witness Slayings

Some 350 students leaving a dance March 10 witnessed two peers from another school being killed and another one wounded in a shooting across the street from a high school in Savannah, Ga.

Police arrested a 19-year-old man and charged him with two counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. The suspect is not a student, according to Bucky Burnsed, a spokesman for the Savannah Police Department.

Ramone Kimble, 16, and Stacey Smalls, 19, students at nearby Savannah High School, who had attended the dance at the 1,700-student Alfred E. Beach High School, died from their gunshot wounds, according to Chatham County Superintendent Virginia Edwards.

A 16-year-old boy who was also shot was later released from the hospital.

—Candice Furlan

N.Y.C. Youth Fatally Stabbed

A 15-year-old student died from a stabbing March 10 by a 16-year-old 100 yards from their high school in New York City.

Both teenagers were students at the 3,600-student Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Brooklyn. According to police, a dispute arose between the two that ended with Francisco Valerdi being stabbed in the abdomen shortly after 1 p.m. He died in a hospital later that day. The attacker fled the scene and had not been apprehended as of last week.

—Naomi Greengrass

Vol. 19, Issue 28, Page 4

Published in Print: March 22, 2000, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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