News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Muslim-Led School Sues Over Revoked Charter

A Muslim-led charter school that had its charter revoked by the Fresno Unified School District is suing the California district in federal court, alleging that the school board's decision was motivated by religious bias.

The lawsuit filed last week asks the court to reinstate the charter and order the district to pay the school the money it has not received since Jan. 16.

The board voted last month to pull Gateway Academy's charter, after it found a $1.3 million deficit and learned that the school had opened several satellite campuses around the state without the district's knowledge. District officials say they began noticing problems at the year-old school before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which Gateway officials contend motivated the move against the school.("Muslim-Led Schools Say Sept. 11 Affected Charter Decision," Jan. 30, 2002.)

The state attorney general's office is also investigating the school for possible misuse of public money.

Jill Marmolejo, a spokeswoman for the district, said school officials were right to revoke the charter. "They are alleging that this is based on religion and race, but the facts speak for themselves," she said. "It had nothing to do with that."

—Linda Jacobson

Boston Officials Mull Notion Of Teachers' Giving Injections

Health officials from the Boston public schools want teachers to be able to give life-saving injections to students having severe allergic reactions, under a plan submitted to the Boston school board.

The measure, proposed late last month, would allow teachers to give shots of epinephrine, a form of adrenaline that can combat swelling of the throat or a drop in blood pressure that occurs with the deadly allergic reaction anaphylaxis.

Currently, students must wait for the school nurse to administer such shots.

"The goal of the plan is to save children's lives," said Mary Jane O'Brien, who helps coordinate school health services for the 63,000-student district. "Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening situation. It needs to be treated immediately."

Shots can be given easily through auto- inject needle devices called "Epipens," health officials said, which could be carried on field trips or be used in other situations in which a nurse would not be on hand.

The proposal follows a change in Massachusetts health department regulations that allow staff members other than school nurses to be trained to give medical care in emergencies.

—Lisa Fine

Web Service Lets Students Report Campus Dangers

Students at four Waco, Texas, middle schools and one high school will be able to send anonymous e-mail messages beginning this week to principals and counselors to report bullying, drug use, threats of violence at school, date rape, and abuse at home.

Boys and girls will get an individual user number and password to log on to a special Web site for their school. They can send e-mails, without revealing their identities, to designated school personnel, who can then reply and take other action.

"This is a safe campus, but we know kids will feel safer," said Principal Roxanne Bass of G.W. Carver Academy, which has 600 students in grades 6-8.

The company providing the Web sites, Insideye Inc., based in Berkeley, Calif., makes products to allow anonymous communication within corporations. The new service, called School Bridge, is being pilot-tested in several school districts, said Ashley Bryan, the president of Insideye.

She said many students, for example, could warn of threatened campus violence in advance, but are afraid of being identified. The company agrees to a "covenant" with students to protect their identities, "except in cases of an immediate violent situation," Ms. Bryan said.

—Andrew Trotter

Study Says Youth Drug, Alcohol Use Triggers Reckless Sexual Behavior

Nearly one-fourth of sexually active young people have unprotected intercourse because they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time, says a study released last week.

Of that group, 29 percent said their judgment was so clouded by such substances that they did "more sexually than they had planned," according to the report by the New York City-based Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

The study is based on interviews with almost 1,000 15- to 24-year-olds. The margin of error is 4 percent.

"For teens, drinking and sex is at least as dangerous as drinking and driving," said Joseph A. Califano Jr., the president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, the study's sponsor.

The report, "Dangerous Liaisons: Substance Abuse and Sexual Behavior," is available online at www.kaisernetwork. org/healthcast/casa/07feb2002.

—Julie Blair

Voters Grant Austin Schools Money to Remove Mold

The Austin school district now has a dedicated source of revenue for ridding its buildings of mold, thanks to a $49.3 million bond issue recently approved by voters in the Texas capital.

Over the next three years, the district expects to spend a minimum of $12 million on mold cleanup in eight schools alone, according to a fact sheet the school system provided to voters. Leaks or potential water-intrusion problems—which can ultimately lead to poor air quality, among other health risks—have been identified in more than 80 other buildings in the 78,000-student district.

The schools slated for major mold remediation are primarily located in the southern part of the district, where eight elementary schools were hastily constructed to relieve overcrowding in the 1980s. Materials used in those buildings are more prone to mold growth, according to the district.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

N.D. Attorney General Gives Go-Ahead for Gym Project

The Bismarck, N.D., school district can use some $500,000 in city sales-tax revenues to renovate a high school gymnasium, according to an opinion by state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

The project at Century High School would provide a third physical education station for its 1,100 students.

A state legislator had asked for the opinion after a city commissioner questioned whether the school system was legally bound to use its own money for construction projects.

If voters approve an amendment to the city's home-rule charter, the attorney general concluded last month, the city can make a one-time donation of public funds to another political division. The school district has agreed in return to open the gymnasium to the public during certain times.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Student to Receive $150,000 Because of Teacher's Remark

The Walnut Valley school district in California has agreed to pay $150,000 to a student to settle a lawsuit concerning an alleged racist incident.

Porsha Finley, 18, a senior at Diamond Bar High School last school year, filed the suit after an incident in September 2000 involving remarks made by a teacher, according to Michael Armijo, a spokesman for the 15,000-student district.

Ms. Finley, who is African-American, said that while she was sitting in economics class, the school's softball coach, Paul Cummins, came to the classroom seeking softball players, according to Mr. Armijo. Someone pointed out that the coach, who is also a teacher at Diamond, had overlooked Ms. Finley in identifying players. At that point, Mr. Cummings turned out the lights and said, "Smile, show us your teeth so we can see you."

The district has acknowledged the incident took place, Mr. Armijo said. Mr. Cummins continues to teach at the school. No policy covering such behavior was in place at the time of the incident.

He added that Ms. Finley said the incident caused her to be emotionally distraught and led her to enroll in an independent- study program instead of returning to school.

Mr. Armijo said the district preferred to settle with the student to avoid the court costs associated with going to trial.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Graduate to Sue Fla. District Over Yearbook-Picture Policy

A former student in the Hillsborough County, Fla., district who claims she was discriminated against because she was forbidden to wear a man's coat and tie in her senior picture plans to sue the district.

Nikki Robinson, 17, who graduated from Robinson High School in December and is a lesbian, said a studio photographer told her at her portrait sitting that she had to wear a black-velvet drape, just like the other senior women.

"That's not Nikki," said her mother, Sonia Youngblood. "She hasn't worn anything feminine since she was a little girl."

Ms. Robinson appealed to school officials, who supported the yearbook's editorial policy on senior portraits. Principal Kevin McCarthy proposed a compromise that would have allowed her to have her picture printed— for free—in the advertising section in the back of the annual, said Mark Hart, a spokesman for the 169,000-student district.

Karen Doering, Ms. Youngblood's lawyer, wrote in a letter to the district that by ignoring the request from Nikki's mother to allow Nikki to dress in accordance with her own gender identity, "the school board is engaging in illegal sex discrimination."

—Rhea Borja

Vol. 21, Issue 22, Page 4

Published in Print: February 13, 2002, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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