News in Brief: A National Roundup

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False Notices Force N.Y. District
To Close

Rochester, N.Y., school officials had to cancel classes last week after someone falsely notified a local television station that schools would be closed.

A notice that the city's schools were to be closed on March 6 was aired on WROC- TV before 6 a.m., after the station allegedly received a call from someone named "Paul" who used a password the station assigned the district. Only authorized district officials are supposed to know the password.

At least one other local radio station started reporting that classes were cancelled, based on WROC's report. Schools had been closed the previous day for snow.

The announcements caused chaos throughout the 37,000-student district in western New York, and district officials decided to call off classes as a result. Fewer than half of 325 bus drivers reported to work. Many food-service workers didn't show up, either. Union rules may require the district to pay some employees who reported for work.

Barbara Jarzyniecki, the district's executive director for communications, said that in addition to K-12 students, the phony call affected 20,000 adult students, 1,600 preschoolers, and 6,000 employees. She said lawyers were involved in reviewing how the problem occurred.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Tribe Wins Grant for School

The Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Nation, a Sioux tribe of American Indians located in northeastern South Dakota, will see a hard-fought struggle come to an end this spring. After more than a decade of waiting, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has granted the tribe a $6.7 million grant to build a new Tiospa Zina Tribal School.

The 40,000-square- foot building will be divided into "learning lodges" to reflect the well-known communal spaces of the tepee. The school will serve about 530 students in grades K-12.

Superintendent Roger Bordeaux expressed relief at the announcement. "We've been fighting to get something done for so long now," he said. "It's a dream come true."

The school applied for the federal funding in 1988. But tribes' school construction projects must first be approved and then go on a BIA priority list that determines the order in which congressional appropriations are requested, said Bill Collier, the director of the bureau's facilities-management office in Albuquerque, N.M.

The project is scheduled for completion in May of next year, with new middle and high school classes to be added by 2003.

—Marianne Hurst

Teens Face Sentencing in Fire

Two teenagers have admitted breaking into Santa Fe High School in New Mexico, and a third youth has admitted setting a fire there that gutted the school's main administration building.

Reid Lathrop, 18, and Colter Gollihugh, 16, both former students at the school, pleaded guilty late last month to larceny and other charges stemming from the Oct. 25 incident. Eric Conway, 17, pleaded guilty to arson and other charges. All three face sentencing April 3, said Assistant Deputy Attorney Alexandra Corwin.

Mr. Lathrop and Mr. Gollihugh had been charged with arson, but pleaded guilty to lesser charges. They admitted only that they broke into the building and took computers, Ms. Corwin said. Mr. Conway admitted to setting a fire in an indoor trash can, but said he never intended to cause such extensive damage, according to Ms. Corwin.

Two slightly older young men who were with the three youths still face related charges.

Joanne Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the Santa Fe district, said more than a dozen administrative employees were still working from the 1,860-student school's library because their offices were destroyed. The district is negotiating with its insurer for money to repair the $1 million in damage.

"It's created a great deal of turmoil," Ms. Ferguson said.

—Catherine Gewertz

Threats Prompt Policy Change

Dismayed by a rash of bomb threats, the Hillsborough County, Fla., schools will recommend that students making such claims be expelled.

The change in policy comes in response to 11 arrests, 20 threats, and a minor explosion in the district's schools in just two weeks last month.

Previously, students in the 177,000-pupil district who made bomb threats were either sent to an alternative school or expelled. Under the new policy, the district will recommend before a hearing officer that such a student be removed from school altogether. The student and a parent, who would be represented at such a quasi-judicial hearing, could appeal the expulsion to the school board.

"Bear in mind this is March, and it's high-stakes testing month," Mark Hart, a spokesman for the district, said, underscoring the need for a stricter policy against such threats. "We felt we needed to be more proactive in our approach."

Since the Feb. 28 policy was adopted, the district has had seven more arrests and nine more threats, said Linda Cobb, a district spokeswoman.

—Mark Stricherz

1st Grader Suspended for Gun

A 7-year-old boy in Marysville, Ohio, has been suspended for bringing a gun to school.

The incident occurred March 1, when the 1st grader showed off the .32-caliber handgun to two students on a school bus. The principal at Mill Valley Elementary School later took the gun, which was not loaded, away from the boy.

Marysville Superintendent Larry D. Zimmerman said he likely would just suspend the boy, although he could expel him.

"That's pretty much what it looks like I'll do," Mr. Zimmerman said of the suspension option. "I need to find the intent of this, and why the gun came to school, whether it was for a hurtful reason ... or to make him feel he was big stuff."

A note explaining the incident was sent to parents, Mr. Zimmerman said.

The 4,300-pupil Marysville district is located in central Ohio, roughly 20 miles northwest of Columbus.

—Mark Stricherz

Judge Rejects Drug Tests

A federal district judge in Lubbock, Texas, has declared the 735-student Lockney school district's drug-testing policy unconstitutional.

The March 1 ruling came as a result of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Larry Tannahill, a parent of a student in the western Texas district. Mr. Tannahill refused to give his consent for his 12-year-old son to be tested under the district's mandatory drug-testing policy for all students in grades 6-12.

U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings ruled that the district did not have a special need for the "suspicionless" drug testing. The tests were initiated in 1999, after members of the community became concerned about increased drug use in the area.

Unlike other school districts, the judge noted, the Lockney schools tested all students—not just athletes—and failed to present evidence of serious drug use in the schools.

Don Henslee, the lawyer for the district, could not be reached for comment.

—Michelle Galley

Job To Focus on Gay Issues

The Madison, Wis., school board has voted to create a full-time position for an educator who will work with students and staff members who are "gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning."

The board approved the position by a vote of 7-0 last month, said Ken Syke, the spokesman for the 25,000-student district. The educator, whose pay will be based on experience and will range between $28,000 to more than $50,000, is expected to help build an "inclusive and supportive" atmosphere in the district for such students, staff members, and their families.

In addition, the responsibilities include curriculum development and work with community organizations concerned with similar issues, according to the board resolution creating the job.

The position, expected to be filled by the end of the school year, is one of seven such jobs known to be in school districts across the country, according to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, a national advocacy group based in New York City.

—Ann Bradley

Vol. 20, Issue 26, Page 4

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