News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Federal Appeals Court Upholds Uniform Policy

A Louisiana district's mandatory school-uniform policy does not violate students' First Amendment right of free speech, a federal appeals court ruled last week.

The 19,000-student Bossier Parish district in northwest Louisiana implemented its policy on a trial basis in 16 of its 34 schools in the 1998-99 school year. After noticing a decline in discipline problems and an increase in test scores, officials expanded the policy districtwide in 1999-2000.

The uniform consists of an oxford or polo shirt in a color chosen by each school and navy or khaki pants. Unlike some other district uniform policies, Bossier Parish's does not allow parents to opt out of the requirement for their children.

A group of 40 parents filed a lawsuit challenging the policy as a violation of their children's First Amendment right of free speech. But a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans unanimously upheld the policy on Jan. 23.

The court said that students' choice of clothing could involve "sufficient communicative content" to merit protection under the First Amendment. But the district's uniform policy is "viewpoint neutral" and justified by its "substantial government interest" in improving the educational process, the court added.

"The school board's purpose for enacting the uniform policy is to increase test scores and reduce disciplinary problems throughout the school system," said the court's opinion. "This purpose is in no way related to the suppression of student speech."

The ruling is believed to be the first by a federal appeals court on a school uniform policy.

—Mark Walsh

Superintendent Hit by Bullet

An Indiana superintendent was injured by a bullet and specks of flying glass when a gunman fired through the back door of the administrator's house this month.

Superintendent Dan Tanoos of the 17,000-student Vigo County district was released from Union Hospital in Terre Haute a few hours after the Jan. 17 shooting, said First Sgt. Duke T. Smith of the Indiana State Police. Mr. Tanoos suffered only minor injuries, Mr. Smith said.

Local and state police said last week that they had 10 to 15 suspects. No arrests had been made.

A Vigo County Sheriff's Department spokesman said investigators believe an angry school employee may have tried to kill Mr. Tanoos.

"He had several hundred employees—teachers and janitors and administrators, ... and you're not going to have everybody happy with him," said the spokesman, Jon R. Marvel. He added that employees who worked with Mr. Tanoos when he was a principal were also under suspicion.

Mr. Tanoos was sitting at a kitchen table with a visitor when the 7:55 p.m. shooting occurred, according to police. Some 25 to 30 feet away, cloaked by the darkness, was a gunman wielding a rifle, Mr. Marvel said.

A deer slug smashed through a double-paned glass window, "kind of parted his hair," and grazed the top of Mr. Tanoos' head, Mr. Marvel added. He said that the bullet came within millimeters of killing the superintendent.

Mr. Tanoos returned to work Jan. 22 under police protection.

"This is highly unusual," said Karen A. Goeller, the deputy superintendent for the district. "We're a warm, peaceful, close-knit community."

—Mark Stricherz

Preschoolers Leave Toxic Site

American University removed 30 preschoolers this month from its campus child-care facility after federal environmental engineers detected high levels of arsenic in the playground of the center at the private Washington university.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers discovered the problem during an expanded cleanup operation of a hazardous site near the university, which was discovered in 1993. Since the corps discovered the contamination—the result of buried chemical munitions waste—authorities have been testing soil in adjacent areas.

The most recent tests of the playground show that the average level of arsenic in the soil is 60 parts per million, university officials said. The federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines call for removal of soil when levels exceed 43 parts per million.

Todd Sedmak, a spokesman for American University, said last week that there were no reports from parents of ill health effects among children as a result of their possible exposure. Health experts, he added, say that children would have to ingest dirt for a prolonged period of time before any serious health problems would occur.

Still, Mr. Sedmak added, "the health and safety of our children, staff, and students is of major concern, and the university has been proactively working to insure that."

—Jessica Portner

Historic School Burns Down

Fire swept through the oldest portion of Seattle's Coe Elementary School last week, frightening neighbors, destroying a landmark, and delaying the school's much-awaited reopening.

Investigators had not yet determined the cause of the Jan. 21 fire, which ruined a three-story, yellow wood building erected in 1907. Other, newer parts of the campus survived the blaze.

The school had been closed for $14.4 million in renovations, but it was not known whether construction work had anything to do with the fire. About 300 students in grades K-5 had been scheduled to enroll at Coe this coming September, but they will continue classes at the vacant Magnolia School for another year, school officials said.

Coe Elementary sits in Seattle's Queen Anne Hill neighborhood. Heat and noise from the fire awakened local residents and forced some from their homes temporarily, officials said.

No one was hurt in the fire, and no damage estimate had been set last week. School leaders believe that few items of furniture or supplies were in the building, but a stately, historic school—columns, archways, and all—is gone.

—Alan Richard

Cleveland May Seek Bond

A commission has recommended that the Cleveland public schools seek voter approval of a $380 million bond issue in May to fix aging and crumbling schools.

The school board agreed last week to hold public meetings about the proposed bond issue in early February. But the board will have to act quickly to meet the Feb. 22 deadline for tax issues to appear on the May 8 ballot.

The 42-member facilities-assessment commission was formed in December by Mayor Michael R. White; Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the district's chief executive officer; and Hilton O. Smith, the school board chairman. The panel was assigned to determine the extent of the need for new or renovated schools.

The 77,000-student district's building needs are estimated to be more than $1.2 billion, but the state of Ohio expects to pay for about 60 percent of repairs for most school systems. Cleveland, which will undergo a building review by state officials next month, is expected to receive about $500 million from the state if the bond issue passes.

The commission's recommendations came three months after the gymnasium roof collapsed at East High School, which Ms. Byrd-Bennett called a "wake-up call for the entire community."

—Karla Scoon Reid

Radio Stations Banned on Buses

The Brockport, N.Y., district has banned two stations from being played on school bus radios after parents complained about coarse sexual content.

About a dozen parents called the district this month to protest programming broadcast by the FM stations, both of which are in nearby Rochester, N.Y. They especially complained about a song that makes a crude reference to sexual intercourse.

Joe LaMarca, the transportation director for the 4,700-student district, ordered drivers to stop playing the two stations on Jan. 16.

Allan R. Berry, a spokesman for the district, said that while two or three people have objected to the move, about 30 people, mostly parents, have called to applaud it.

—Bess Keller

Vol. 20, Issue 20, Page 4

Published in Print: January 31, 2001, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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