News in Brief: A National Roundup

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NAACP Launches Drive to Close
Achievement Gap

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People last week launched a campaign to close the achievement gap between black students and their white and Asian-American peers.

As part of "Call for Action," NAACP units in each state will distribute documents identifying areas in which the organization finds "consistent racial educational disparities." State officials will be asked to submit five-year plans for remedying the problems to the NAACP by May 10.

The reports will cover K-12 and higher education and include differences in educational resources, teacher quality, early-childhood programs, class sizes, suspension and expulsion rates, and placement in special education and gifted and talented programs.

The National Black Caucus of State Legislators and the Harvard Civil Rights Project are working with the NAACP on the initiative.

—Ann Bradley

Mich. Teenager Kills Himself After
Standoff at School

After a three-hour standoff with police, a 17-year-old high school student killed himself last week at an alternative school in Caro, Mich.

Chris Buschbacher, a junior who barricaded himself inside the Caro Community School's Adult Learning Center on Nov. 12, took two hostages at gunpoint.

The student had become depressed over the recent dissolution of a romantic relationship, police said. He also told negotiators that he had legal problems in Florida, although police found no evidence or warrants against him to substantiate the claim.

Superintendent Dennis Anderson said the student managed to smuggle a 20-gauge shotgun and a 22-gauge rifle into the school using a duffle bag. Mr. Buschbacher, who owned the guns legally, then hid the weapons in the building.

He held a 48-year-old teacher and a 15-year-old female student captive for more than 90 minutes before the teacher, Joseph Gottler, finally persuaded him to release the girl in exchange for a pack of cigarettes.

The 140-student school, which is an alternative learning facility for high school students and adults, was to remain closed until Nov. 19.

—Marianne Hurst

Grape-Juice Prank Earns Girl
Nine-Day Suspension

A 13-year-old Georgia girl was suspended from school for nine days this month for passing off grape juice as wine.

Amanda Williams, an 8th grade student at Five Forks Middle School in the 116,500-student Gwinnett County school district, allegedly told classmates on Nov. 6 that a liquid she was sipping from a clear bottle with a cork was wine. She later told administrators that the liquid was grape juice she had purchased in the school cafeteria before homeroom and poured into the bottle.

Under the school district's policy, a student who is found with drugs or alcohol on campus, or "any substance under the pretense that it is in fact a prohibited substance," receives a nine-day suspension, district spokeswoman Sloan Roach said.

Ms. Roach said administrators never found the bottle.

The 8th grader was offered the opportunity to reduce the suspension to only three days if she and a parent attended a drug-and-alcohol awareness program at the school, but the student's mother declined, according to the spokeswoman.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Council for Basic Education
Chooses New President

The Council for Basic Education has named Raymond "Buzz" Bartlett its new president and chief executive officer.

Mr. Bartlett, 57, is currently the director of corporate affairs at Lockheed Martin Corp., a space and aeronautics company based in Bethesda, Md. He succeeds Christopher T. Cross, who is retiring, and will start his new job in January.

Mr. Bartlett is the president of the Maryland state board of education, a co-chair of the Conference Board's education committee, and a member of the Business Roundtable's education working group.

The Council for Basic Education, based in Washington, is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to high standards for all students in public schools.

—Ann Bradley

Teacher Fired for Burning Flag
In Front of 6th Grade Class

A teacher in the Sacramento, Calif., area who burned the United States flag in front of his 6th grade class after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has been fired.

The 2,400-student Del Paso Heights Elementary district took the action against Kory Grant Clift, 25, this month. Mr. Clift was given a 30-day termination notice in October.

The teacher reportedly set fire to a portion of the flag in front of 30 students at North Avenue Elementary School, drawing protests from parents.

The second-year teacher was placed on administrative leave last spring for placing a student in a closet for discipline reasons, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Mr. Clift has appealed his dismissal, but a hearing date has not been scheduled.

—Tom Kim

U. of Ga. Will Not Appeal
Affirmative Action Ruling

The University of Georgia will not ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review a ruling that found its affirmative action policy for undergraduate admissions unconstitutional. Instead, the state's board of regents said it would use other means to promote racial diversity in the university's student body.

"A Supreme Court case has implications far beyond our unique circumstances in Georgia," Stephen R. Portch, the chancellor of the University of Georgia system, said in a Nov. 9 statement.

On Aug. 27, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, struck down the university's affirmative action program, which gave a partial preference to nonwhite applicants. The panel held that the policy was arbitrary and that it violated the 14th Amendment equal- protection rights of three white applicants who were denied admission in 1999.

Michael F. Adams, the president of the university's main campus in Athens, Ga., said in the statement that the emphasis in admissions will shift to earlier and better identification of qualified minority applicants.

The university made its decision in consultation with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which feared that the Supreme Court might use the case to prohibit any consideration of race in admissions decisions.

—Mark Walsh

U.S. Appeals Court Orders Trial
For Fired Ky. Teacher

A panel of federal appellate judges has reversed a lower court's dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a former Kentucky teacher who was fired after actor Woody Harrelson spoke to her class about industrial hemp.

Donna Cockrel, then a 5th grade teacher at Simpsonville Elementary School in the Shelby County public schools, has said she invited the celebrity to speak on the topic on two occasions, in 1996 and 1997, to help her students better understand agricultural and environmental issues.

Industrial hemp, which can be used to make such products as rope and paper, is considered a controlled substance because it contains the kind of psychoactive ingredients found in marijuana. Mr. Harrelson is an outspoken proponent of use of the plant as a way to reduce such practices as logging.

After Ms. Cockrel was fired, she sued the 5,000-student district, which she said had violated her right to free expression as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Her complaint was dismissed early last year by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, based in Frankfort.

But on Nov. 9, the panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, reversed the decision, ordering the lower court to hold a trial.

—Jeff Archer

Oklahoma City Voters Approve Passage
Of Two Bond Issues

Voters in Oklahoma City narrowly passed two bond referendums last week that will allocate a total of $692 million to the area's decaying schools. The measures, which needed 60 percent approval to win, passed by 60.99 percent, according to Todd Stogner, a spokesman for the 40,000-student Oklahoma City public schools.

The larger of the two bonds calls for a sales-tax increase of half a cent on each dollar, which is expected to raise $512 million to rebuild and renovate schools inside the city limits. That includes the Oklahoma City district and parts of 23 surrounding districts.

The second bond, for $180 million, provides funds for renovating eight schools in the Oklahoma City district that are outside the city limits. The bonds are the first approved since 1993.

—Michelle Galley

Vol. 21, Issue 12, Page 4

Published in Print: November 21, 2001, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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