News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Appeals Court Lets Voucher Ruling Stand

A federal appeals court last week declined to re-examine a ruling that struck down the Cleveland voucher program as an unconstitutional form of government aid to religion.

The March 1 action by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, means that voucher supporters will next ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.

In December, a 6th Circuit panel ruled 2-1 that the voucher program violated the First Amendment's prohibition against a government establishment of religion because the vast majority of private schools participating in the program were religious.

Some 4,000 Cleveland children use vouchers worth as much as $2,250 to attend private schools in the city. The program has been allowed to continue operating pending the outcome of the legal challenge led by teachers' unions and civil liberties groups.

Eleven judges on the full 6th Circuit court declined without comment to rehear the case, with one judge recusing herself. The action leaves the three-judge panel's ruling striking down the program in place.

Matthew Berry, a staff lawyer with the Institute for Justice, a Washington organization that represents voucher families in the litigation, said the case would be appealed to the Supreme Court.

—Mark Walsh

Teens Sue Over Scholarships

Two young women brought to Georgia illegally as children are suing the Georgia Student Finance Commission in an effort to receive HOPE Scholarships.

Under state law, immigrants who are not United States citizens or don't have legal residence here can't receive financial support for college from the scholarships. The program seeks to keep top students in the state by providing up to $3,000 a year in college aid to high school students who graduate with a B average.

The popular lottery- financed scholarship program, which has distributed over $1 billion to more than 500,000 students since 1993, has been copied in at least a dozen other states and inspired President Clinton's federal HOPE tuition tax credits.

The Georgia plaintiffs, who are not named in the lawsuit, were brought to the United States from Mexico at ages 12 and 8. Their suit, filed Feb. 22 in DeKalb County Superior Court, says at least 1,500 high school students since 1993 would have qualified for the scholarships, but were prohibited because of the requirements of citizenship or legal residence.

Christopher D. Adams, the women's lawyer, cites a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision that required states to provide elementary and secondary education to students regardless of their immigration status.

Officials of the Student Finance Commission, which administer the HOPE scholarships, are not commenting on the lawsuit.

—John Gehring

Mo. District Faces Probe

A district in the Kansas City, Mo., area is under federal investigation after three Hispanic families were questioned about their immigration status when trying to enroll their children in school.

The families maintain that the Center 58 School District, after asking for passports and "green cards," told them that it does not accept undocumented immigrants, according to The Associated Press. Under a U.S. Supreme Court decision nearly 20 years ago, precollegiate public schools are required to educate students regardless of citizenship status.

David A. Leone, the personnel director for the 2,600-student district, disputed the families' account. The whole situation is a misunderstanding, he said.

Mr. Leone said he told two families in January that he didn't know what to do about their lack of documentation. He added that one woman confided to him that she was an "illegal alien."

The U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights is investigating the matter, confirmed Rodger Murphey, a spokesman. The complaint against the district was filed Jan. 18.

—Mark Stricherz

N.Y.C. To Change LEP Programs

New York City's board of education unanimously approved a plan last week to revamp programs for children with limited English proficiency.

The board voted 7-0 in favor of a plan proposed by the 1.1 million-student system's chancellor, Harold O. Levy. The plan, scheduled to go into effect by next school year, will give LEP students more options for programs and their parents more control over which programs they're enrolled in. ("New York City Modifies Bilingual Education," Jan. 17, 2001.)

Schools will need to seek parental approval, for example, before placing LEP students in transitional bilingual education—programs in which students are taught in their native languages while learning English. Schools will also have to obtain permission from parents to keep their children in a special program to learn English for more than three years.

The plan keeps in place transitional bilingual education and English-as-a-second-language programs, which have been the mainstay of instruction for the school system's 160,000 LEP students. It also expands so-called two-way bilingual programs and adds a new option, called "accelerated academic English." Under that option, LEP students will receive English and subject-area instruction outside normal school hours as well as during the school day.

—Mary Ann Zehr

K.C. Board Raps Superintendent

The Kansas City, Mo., school board members have voted to reprimand Superintendent Benjamin Demps Jr. and halted plans for negotiations over extending his contract.

Board members acted after Mr. Demps suggested that state lawmakers speed up their proposed takeover of the troubled district. Mr. Demps, whose two-year contract ends in August, made his comments during a private meeting with the education committee of the House of Representatives.

David A. Smith, the district's associate superintendent for communications, said Mr. Demps was concerned that the stormy debate surrounding the possible takeover was distracting the 29,500-student system from focusing on improving student achievement. So, rather than delay the inevitable, Mr. Demps asked that the state act now.

A majority of the nine- member school board opposes a bill that would clear the way for a state takeover this year.

A spokesman for D. Kent King, the state education commissioner, said the education department was prepared to run the district this year.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Taping Charges Dropped

A criminal charge against a 17-year-old Florida high school student accused of illegally making an audio recording of a class was dropped last week.

A part-time teacher had accused the girl, a student at Navarre High School in the Santa Rosa County district, of making the tape last October. The incident was considered a routine disciplinary matter that was addressed, said John Rogers, the superintendent of the 23,000-student district near Pensacola.

But the part-time chemistry teacher whose class was recorded resigned before Christmas and later filed criminal charges against the student, Mr. Rogers said.

Once local news organizations reported the third-degree felony charges against the student, the local prosecutor dropped the charges, the superintendent said.

Florida law prohibits tape recordings when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. The student had pleaded not guilty.

— Alan Richard

Hearing Set in Edison Lawsuit

A judge in Brooklyn was scheduled last week to consider a request for a preliminary injunction that would delay a vote by parents in five schools in New York City on whether to bring in Edison Schools Inc. to operate them.

The effort to convert the schools to charter status is being opposed by a coalition of politicians and activists including the New York chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN.

The coalition's lawsuit contends that the board of education has not followed the required processes in seeking to turn the schools over to Edison, said Bertha Lewis, the executive director of New York ACORN.

ACORN complains that Edison's contract with the board unfairly gives the for-profit school-management company resources to try to persuade parents to vote yes. An affirmative vote is required under New York state's charter-conversion law.

—Ann Bradley

Vol. 20, Issue 25, Page 4

Published in Print: March 7, 2001, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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