News in Brief: A National Roundup

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North Carolina Schools Assemble Crisis Kits

In the spirit of hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, North Carolina schools are assembling spare keys, important phone numbers and security codes, blueprints, evacuation routes, helicopter coordinates, and action plans in the event of a school shooting or similar emergency.

The state attorney general is coordinating the effort to put a crisis kit in each of the state's 2,100 public schools. Packages include a video dramatization of a shooting scenario and a brochure outlining the appropriate response of school personnel and law-enforcement officials.

"We all know what happened at Columbine," said state Attorney General Roy Cooper, referring to the 1999 shooting rampage in a Jefferson County, Colo., high school that left 15 people dead. "We hope and pray and believe that will never occur in North Carolina, but we owe it to our students and teachers to be ready for such an occurrence in the event that it happens."

Mr. Cooper's office is organizing meetings with superintendents and principals throughout the state to help them prepare their kits.

In most cases, the kits will be kept in principals' offices, where command centers are to be set up in the event of a crisis. The kits will cost each school about $50.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Baltimore District Settles Suit Over Teacher's Use of Guide Dog

A blind teacher who claimed that she lost a job offer over her use of a guide dog will receive $55,000 in compensation from the Baltimore public schools.

Under the terms of a settlement reached late last month with the U.S. Justice Department, the 96,000-student district also agreed to adopt new policies aimed at protecting people with disabilities from employment discrimination.

In the settlement, the district denies having discriminated against the teacher, Janet C. Mushington, who said that a job offer in 1998 at Westside Elementary School was rescinded after she indicated that she would be accompanied at school by her new service dog. Ms. Mushington filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which led to the Justice Department suit.

The teacher was later hired by the neighboring Baltimore County school district, where her guide dog was welcome.

—Bess Keller

Calif. Superintendent Resigns After Uproar Over Spending

The embattled chief of a San Jose, Calif., district has resigned after community members questioned his travel and other spending.

Terry L. Jones, the superintendent of the 800-student Orchard Elementary district, left his post Dec. 31 after three years as the head of the school system in northern San Jose.

During his tenure, Mr. Jones traveled to Cuba, England, and throughout the United States at district expense. He also drove an $80,000 BMW that the school board purchased for him. Last year, after a public outcry, the board announced it would sell the car.

In a statement announcing the superintendent's departure, Mr. Jones and the school board said the district's children "deserve to be educated in a calmer political environment than has existed during the past year."

Mr. Jones will receive $60,000 in severance.

—David J. Hoff

Chicago Mayor Praises District's Flexible High School Schedules

Mayor Richard M. Daley last week praised the Chicago school district's new rules that allow some students to finish high school a year early. Other students are given five years to finish.

"Some of these students are in a tough bind through no fault of their own. Others have made unwise choices. But that doesn't make any difference. Their lives are only going to get worse if they leave high school without a diploma," the mayor said at a news conference.

The nation's third-largest district, with 435,500 students, allows 7th and 8th graders to take high school courses so they can graduate early. Some schools offer extended-day programs that permit students who have failed or dropped out to attend afternoon or nighttime classes.

Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan said in a statement that the system's "ACE program," an acronym for the Accelerated, Classical, and Extended diplomas program, will help more students graduate even as the city implements tougher grade-promotion requirements approved last fall.

—Alan Richard

N.M. Principal Won't Return $390,000 in Incentive Pay

Jesse L. Gonzales, the former superintendent of the Las Cruces, N.M., school district, has denied the school board's request to return nearly $390,000 the board paid him over 12 years in incentives to stay with the 23,000-student district.

Mr. Gonzales said in a news release that all the compensation was approved unanimously by the board. The incentives were in the form of a salary bonus, credits to a retirement account, and three life insurance policies.

After serving 12 years in the district, Mr. Gonzales left in August to become superintendent of the Compton, Calif., schools.

The Las Cruces board has admitted violating the state's open-meetings law and others in connection with the incentives. The state auditor is examining the board's records, and state and local officials have initiated both civil and criminal investigations into the board's actions.

—Andrew Trotter

Government Seizes a Portion Of Nevada District's NSF Grant

The federal government has garnished part of a grant from the National Science Foundation to the Clark County, Nev., school district to pay outstanding Medicare debts.

About $7,000 of a $152,000 grant for mathematics and science programs has been seized so far, according to Edward Goldman, the southeast-region superintendent for the 246,000-student district, who also is in charge of staff relations.

The debts were accrued by a failed health trust established by the Education Support Employees Association, a local union, to provide health insurance to the Nevada district's support personnel. Union officials and NSF officials could not be reached for comment.

The district now provides those health benefits, Mr. Goldman said, and plans to use money it has saved in contracts with health-insurance providers to reimburse the district the $7,000 it lost from the grant.

—Michelle Galley

Houston-Area Students to Get Cash for Tips on Crime Threats

Houston-area students who drop a dime on peers planning to commit a crime could get $5,000.

Thanks to a Safe Schools program created by Crime Stoppers of Houston, a nonprofit crime tip line, middle and high school students in 21 of 24 Harris County school districts can make anonymous tips about potential incidents at their schools.

"It's very empowering for the students," said Anthony York, Crime Stoppers of Houston's program director. "Now, if they know something is going on, they can tell someone about it without fear of being the target of revenge."

Students are encouraged to tip off the organization about other youths possessing guns or threatening violence. Tipsters will be given an identifying code. If a tip is valid, the student will be notified to go to a specified bank where he or she will provide the code number and receive the reward money.

—Lisa Fine

Vol. 21, Issue 18, Page 4

Published in Print: January 16, 2002, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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