News in Brief: A National Roundup

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National Board Honors New Crop of Teachers

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards announced last week that it has certified another 4,694 teachers, boosting to 9,498 the number of such teachers nationwide.

The Arlington, Va.-based organization offers rigorous, voluntary performance assessments that judge teachers against national standards of accomplishment.

The announcement of the results for the 1999-2000 school year almost doubled the number of teachers who made the mark last year, board officials noted.

"We believe we're well on our way to reaching our goal of 100,000 national-board-certified teachers by 2006," Betty Castor, the president of the board, said in releasing the results.

The organization has received 11,000 applications from teachers who wish to be candidates for certification in the 2000-01 school year, she added.

— Bradley

School for Homeless Opens

The Los Angeles Unified School District has teamed up with a leading social service agency in the city to open a school designed to serve the homeless and working poor.

The Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Learning Center in Los Angeles, which opened Nov. 27, links staff members from the Belmont Community Adult School with the Weingart Center, one of the nation's largest social service agencies.

The 22,000-square-foot school offers adults computer training, preparation for the General Educational Development test, English-as-a-second- language classes, and basic courses in English and mathematics. Workshops and job counseling to prepare adults for employment also will be available.

The school is located much closer to areas plagued by poverty and unemployment than other adult education facilities, according to Sabrina Prud'homme, a program administrator with the Weingart Center.

"The partnership is key," Ms. Prud'homme said. "A social service organization or a school alone can't accommodate all of the needs of people."

—John Gehring

Teen Use of 'Ecstasy' Rises

While teenage marijuana use plunged for the third straight year, an increasing number of teenagers are using the drug known as "ecstasy," according to a report released last week.

In its 13th annual survey, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America found that the percentage of teenagers who have tried ecstasy at least once jumped from 7 percent in 1999 to 10 percent this year. The rate has doubled since 1995, when 5 percent of teenagers reported using the drug, which is a methamphetamine.

The survey queried 7,290 students in 7th through 12th grade.

By contrast, the New York City-based nonprofit group reported that 40 percent of teenagers said they had tried marijuana, down slightly from 41 percent in 1999. Marijuana use has declined for the past three years; in 1997, 44 percent of teenagers surveyed said they had used the drug.

"The shifts [in marijuana use] reflect good things for the future, but the spike we are seeing [in use of ecstasy] demands our attention," Richard D. Bonnette, the president of the organization, said in a statement.

—Jessica Portner

N.C. District Thinking 'Green'

A once-rural North Carolina district is planning to build what it says could be one of the most environmentally friendly schools in the country.

The 17,000-student Iredell-Stateside school system, located in a growing suburb between Charlotte and Winston-Salem, has approved plans to construct an $11.5 million elementary school that will be designed to expose its 800 students to lots of daylight and conserve energy and water.

The district has paid a $2,000 application fee to have the school certified as "green" with the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington-based nonprofit group. If approved, the school, scheduled to open in the fall of 2002, would be the first elementary school to be so designated in the nation.

"We've been interested in lessening the environmental impact, and we were also interested in it as a learning tool," said Julia C. Williams, the district's assistant superintendent for planning.

—Mark Stricherz

Detroit Audits Reveal Fraud

Audits of 30 Detroit public schools covering 1996 to 1999 have found that up to $600,000 was misused during that period or is still missing.

Virgil Lobring, the interim chief of staff for the 164,000-student Detroit schools, said it's difficult to determine exactly how much money was involved.

"There's been no paper," he said. "Throughout our district, there's a serious lack of documentation for accounting."

The district audited its 29 high schools and one elementary school. At some schools, gate receipts for athletic events are unaccounted for, while at others, money was improperly spent on flowers, fraternity dues, and lunches for employees.

One high school principal reimbursed himself for $95,000 over a two-year period for personal items ranging from gasoline to a trip to Italy for his son, an audit found. That principal and another high school principal have been placed on paid leave.

Four former high school principals who were promoted to district administration positions this year oversaw schools where some financial irregularities were identified, Mr. Lobring said.

So far, two bookkeepers have been fired and eight high school audits have been turned over to the Wayne County prosecutor's office for review. Some employees face embezzlement and forgery charges.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Judge Fines N.J. Union

Teachers in a south New Jersey school district who ended their three-day strike last week will have to pay the price: $45,000.

A New Jersey Superior Court judge imposed the fine against the New Jersey Education Association's Magnolia district affiliate, which represents 40 teachers and five custodians.

The fine was a penalty for staying on strike for three days, despite Judge Theodore Z. Davis' order to return to work at the district's 250-student K-8 school on Nov. 17, the first day of the strike.

The two sides reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract on Nov. 27, but it has not yet been ratified. The points of contention were salary and benefits for nontenured teachers, said Karen Joseph, a spokeswoman for the NJEA.

Ms. Joseph said the union may try to appeal to the judge to drop the fines.

—Lisa Fine

Mass. Workshop Draws Suit

An employee of the Massachusetts education department who was fired last spring for leading a workshop that included graphic sexual descriptions is suing the agency and the two activists who secretly taped the session.

In the suit, filed late last month, Margot E. Abels accuses Scott Whiteman and Brian Camenker of violating her right to privacy and the state's anti-wiretapping law by recording a workshop she led last March at the request of the Gay & Lesbian Student Education Network. ("Mass. Ed. Dept. Criticized for Taped Session on Gay Sex," May 31, 2000.)

Ms. Abels, who was a coordinator of the education department's HIV/AIDS program, also says state Commissioner of Education David P. Driscoll violated her free-speech rights by firing her in May after the men made the tape public and it generated a storm of controversy.

She is asking to be reinstated with back pay and is seeking some $200,000 in emotional-distress and punitive damages, citing abusive and threatening messages she received as a result of the tape.

Mr. Camenker, the president of the Parents' Rights Coalition, a group founded in 1995 to monitor sex education in schools, denied he or Mr. Whiteman had broken the law. "The idea of extending the wiretapping law to something like this is absurd," he said.

The group is also being sued separately by a student who took part in the workshop.

The education department did not respond to a request for comment.

—Bess Keller

Vol. 20, Issue 14, Page 4

Published in Print: December 6, 2000, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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