News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Search of 4th Graders Alarms Missouri Parents

The principal of a Missouri elementary school angered parents this month when he ordered 4th grade boys to strip down to their underwear in the search for a lost show-and-tell item.

The incident at Adrian Elementary School, in the small town of Adrian, 40 miles south of Kansas City, occurred on Oct. 3, when a student lost track of a war medal that had been brought to school.

In the course of a search ordered by the principal, girls were patted down by a female school employee and boys were sent to the boys' restroom, one by one, and ordered to strip to their underwear in front of the male principal and a male coach, lawyers for both sides said.

The medal was later found on the classroom floor, but several parents called the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri, saying their children were "traumatized, crying, and not wanting to go back to school," said Dick Kurtenbach, the group's executive director. At their request, the ACLU demanded an apology, a reprimand of the principal, and adoption of a school policy forbidding such searches.

Tom Mickes, the lawyer for the 700-student Adrian R-III School District, said the board met with the principal to clarify its policy on student searches and discuss ways to minimize the chances of a repeat incident. The principal also called parents last week to apologize, Mr. Mickes said, adding that he believes the matter has now been settled.

—Catherine Gerwertz

Key-Chain Flap Prompts Review

Cobb County, Ga., school officials are reviewing the district's zero-tolerance policy on weapons after the suspension of an 11-year-old girl drew unfavorable national attention this month.

Sixth grader Ashley Smith was suspended from classes at Garrett Middle School in Austell last month for 10 days for having a 9¾-inch chain dangling from her Tweety Bird key ring.

The district reversed its decision three days later, on Sept. 29, after several administrators concluded the weapons policy did not address what size chain could be considered dangerous.

The action was too little, too late for Ashley's parents, however. They removed her from Garrett, gave media interviews criticizing the district, and enrolled their daughter at the Atlanta New Century School, a small private school in downtown Atlanta, where she started classes Oct. 6.

"In evaluating that case, the policy wasn't very clear," said Jay Dillon, a spokesman for the 95,000-student district. School officials will "work to clarify that specific element of the policy," he said.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Fla. Fire-Code Audit Wraps Up

A statewide review of Florida schools' compliance with fire and safety codes found that a total of 158 schools in 12 districts had deficiencies, including malfunctioning or inoperable fire alarms, state officials said last week.

Tom Gallagher, the state education commissioner, called for the review after widespread fire-code violations in Miami-Dade County schools were made public this past summer. Mr. Gallagher had threatened to close schools that didn't meet fire and safety code in August.

Instead, the commissioner has accepted action plans from the affected districts outlining how they will correct the violations, officials said in releasing the results of the review. Schools with malfunctioning fire alarms must assign people to serve as "fire watchers" instead.

Miami-Dade, with 361,000 students, had 52 schools with violations—the most of any district.

Karen Chandler, a spokeswoman for the department of education, said there would be periodic, unannounced spot fire and safety inspections of Florida schools to ensure compliance with the codes.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Bus Driver Fired for Leaving Boy

The Caddo Parish school board in Shreveport, La., has fired an 18-year bus driver for leaving a student alone on her bus for six hours.

The board voted Oct. 3 to terminate Verneta F. Scott, 53. She was accused of willfully neglecting her duty on Aug. 22, after she left a 5-year-old boy alone on her bus from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.

David Hamilton, Ms. Scott's lawyer, said she claimed the occurrence was an unintentional oversight and asked the board for leniency. The board voted to suspend her without pay on Sept. 11 before deciding to terminate her employment.

Ms. Scott has decided to appeal, but has not yet done so, Mr. Hamilton said last week.

The boy reportedly was taken to the hospital and found to be unharmed.

—Vanessa Dea

Roof Collapse Closes School

East High School in Cleveland was closed last week as district officials assessed damage from the collapse of the school's gym roof.

Five people were hospitalized with minor injuries after the Oct. 6 collapse, which displaced 850 students and school employees.

The collapse caused structural damage to adjacent parts of the school, forcing district leaders to keep the building closed last week. William Wendling, a spokesman for the 77,000-student district, said officials were still deciding how long repairs might take, and whether students should be moved from the campus for the rest of the year.

The collapse rocked the school on the city's east side at around 11:50 a.m. Three students and two adults who were in a physical education class in the gym basement suffered minor injuries, such as cuts and shortness of breath, Mr. Wendling said.

The main floor of the gym was closed at the time because custodians had discovered a crack in a wood-laminated ceiling beam. Engineers determined there was a problem and were developing a plan to repair the 25-year-old building when the gym roof fell in.

—Alan Richard

S.F. Drops Teacher-Housing Plan

What had been touted as an unprecedented idea for giving some teachers relief from the San Francisco Bay Area's housing crunch appears to be dead.

Following protests from neighborhood groups, the San Francisco school board last week tabled a plan to build a 43-unit apartment building at the site of a proposed elementary school.

The vote wasn't the first blow to the project, which was intended to offer affordable rental rates to teachers. It drew fire from some teachers upset at the implication that they needed to move into a subsidized housing project in order to be able to live in San Francisco. ("San Francisco Schools To Build Housing for Teachers," June 7, 2000.)

Officials in the 67,000- student district last month announced that they would not partner with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as originally planned, as a way to keep costs down.

But it was the outcry of local residents—who said they weren't given enough advance notice—that prompted the board to shelve the proposal until the district completes a comprehensive plan for helping to alleviate the housing problem.

—Jeff Archer

Desegregation Activist Cleared

The late Rev. Joseph Armstrong DeLaine, a civil rights leader who helped parents sue to end segregation in South Carolina schools, was cleared last week of criminal charges that had forced him from his home in the state 45 years ago.

Mr. DeLaine's family gathered with politicians and high school students in a ceremony at the former all-white Summerton (S.C.) High School in rural Clarendon County to recognize the minister's symbolic pardon by the state board of paroles and pardons.

Mr. DeLaine's advocacy made him the target of several death threats. In 1955, he was charged with assault and battery with the intent to kill for shooting back at assailants who fired at his family's Lake City home from their vehicles. He fled the state that year and led churches in New York before retiring in 1972. He died in 1974.

Mr. DeLaine was a key leader in the state's civil rights movement, urging parents in Clarendon County to petition the school board for busing and better facilities for black students in 1949. Those parents sued a year later in Briggs v. Elliott, one of five cases that led to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

"It gives an indication that even though injustices have been done ... there's always some kind of openness to make things right," said J. A. DeLaine Jr., his son.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Vol. 20, Issue 7, Page 4

Published in Print: October 18, 2000, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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