News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Teens Accused of Plot to Blow Up
High School

Three students at a rural Kansas high school were charged last week with conspiring to blow up their school. Local law-enforcement officers uncovered what they described as a detailed plan, a stash of weapons, and 400 rounds of ammunition at the students' homes.

Richard Bradley Jr., 18, and two students ages 16 and 17 were charged in Jackson County District Court with conspiracy to commit aggravated arson. Mr. Bradley, who was suspended from school, is out on bail and was scheduled for a hearing this week. The two other students are being held in a juvenile- detention facility until a hearing March 1.

The alleged plot, which authorities said was reminiscent of the April 1999 incident that left 15 people dead at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo., was discovered after a student heard rumors of trouble and informed the principal.

Sheriff's detectives searched the boys' homes and discovered rifles and ammunition, bomb- making materials, and a hand-written floor plan of the 267-student Royal Valley High School, according to authorities. The officers also found Nazi emblems and white-supremacist paraphernalia, they said.

Mr. Bradley's lawyer did not return calls for comment.

—Jessica Portner

Gay Student Sues Calif. District

A former high school student in rural Visalia, Calif., is suing the district, claiming that he was harassed by a teacher and placed in a nonacademic program because he is gay.

The federal lawsuit was filed last month against the 24,000-student Visalia Unified School District by the American Civil Liberties Union. In addition to the former student, California's Gay-Straight Alliance Network, which has a chapter in the district located in the state's central valley, is a plaintiff in the suit.

The lawsuit contends that a teacher repeatedly verbally harassed George Loomis, a student at Golden West High School from September 1996 to January 2000. When Mr. Loomis complained of the treatment, and subsequent taunts by fellow students, the suit says, he was placed in an alternative, special education program off campus, which did not prepare him for college.

District officials did not return a call for comment.

—Ann Bradley

Boston Police 'Sweep' Schools

Boston police will make random security sweeps of the district's 130 schools this month in reaction to recent assaults, including one incident that left a 1st grade teacher with a fractured cheekbone.

The sweeps are part of a 12-point plan unveiled by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant, and Police Superintendent Paul Joyce last week in an attempt to curb violence in schools.

The initiative includes "walk-throughs" by police at each of the 64,000-student district's 85 elementary schools to assess school safety plans; the institution of a system to monitor violent incidents involving staff members; and discussions with parent and school representatives.

—Julie Blair

Md. Targets 4th Baltimore School

The Maryland state school board has voted to take over a fourth Baltimore city school. But the state will grant the district broad authority to decide how the school will be operated.

Westport Elementary and Middle School was targeted late last month by the state board for "reconstitution," or a complete reorganization, which is the state's harshest sanction against failing schools.

Carmen V. Russo, the chief executive officer of the 107,000-student Baltimore system, has proposed hiring Victory Schools Inc., a New York City firm that began managing public schools in 1999, to take over the school's operations.

Last year, the state board voted to take over three other low-performing schools in the city under a 1994 reconstitution policy. The board selected Edison Schools Inc. to operate them.

The state board is expected to rule on the district's proposal at its meeting later this month.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Principal Fends off Knife Attack

A principal and two teachers subdued a man accused of wielding a machete inside their York County, Pa., elementary school, but not before the three adults and six students were injured in the struggle.

None of the children was severely hurt in the Feb. 2 incident at the 370-pupil North Hopewell-Winterstown Elementary School in the Red Lion Area School District. But Principal Norina Bentzel suffered deep cuts to her hands and arms, including a nearly severed finger.

Kindergarten teacher Linda Collier also required surgery for her cuts, while 3rd grade teacher Stacey Bailey received minor injuries.

Charged in the attack was William Michael Stankewicz, 56, of Johnson City, Tenn., a former Baltimore high school teacher, who police said may have been trying to track down a former wife and her children when he went to the school.

He was being held in the York County jail last week on a $2 million bond.

Mr. Stankewicz served two years in federal prison starting in 1996 for threatening people, including his then- estranged wife, according to local news reports.

Ms. Bentzel was in good condition in a Baltimore hospital last week, although it is unlikely that she will regain full feeling and use of her hands, a hospital spokeswoman said.

—Bess Keller

Arizona Teacher Avoids Trial

An Arizona middle school teacher who staged her own shooting has avoided a federal trial by pleading guilty to possessing a stolen firearm.

Kathy Morris, who taught 6th grade science at La Cima Middle School in Tucson, shot herself in her classroom last spring and concocted a story about a nonexistent attacker who had been sending her threatening letters through the mail. The teacher later told police she had shot herself to draw attention to what she said was a lack of security at the school.

Ms. Morris was charged with seven counts of mail fraud, one count of possessing a stolen firearm on school property, and one count of firing a weapon on school property.

Although she avoided a federal trial, which had been scheduled for Feb. 27, Ms. Morris still faces charges in Pima County Superior Court, according to her lawyer, A. Bates Butler III. Meanwhile, she is getting psychiatric treatment and needs surgery on the shoulder she injured in the shooting, he said.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Judge Removed From Case

A federal judge in Massachusetts has been ordered to recuse herself from a case challenging race-based school assignments in Boston.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, based in Boston, granted a petition last week to remove U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner from the case for making comments that could be interpreted as biased.

Judge Gertner wrote a letter last July to correct what she said were inaccuracies in an article published in the Boston Herald that compared the current case to a former one, the appellate court's decision says. ("Race-Based Assignment Challenged," July 14, 1999.)

The judge was quoted in a newspaper article the following month, which prompted the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to file a motion asking her to remove herself from the case on the grounds that she no longer appeared impartial.

Judge Gertner denied the motion, and the plaintiffs, an activist group called Boston's Children First, petitioned the appeals court to have her removed.

The Feb. 5 appellate ruling by a three-judge panel states that the petition was granted because "it was, in this case, an abuse of discretion for the judge not to recuse herself based on an appearance of partiality." However, the judges said, "we emphasize that such a grant in no way indicates a finding of actual bias or prejudice."

—Vanessa Dea

Vol. 20, Issue 22, Page 4

Published in Print: February 14, 2001, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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