News in Brief: A National Roundup

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AASA President-Elect to Reimburse Home District

The president-elect of the American Association of School Administrators will reimburse his district for using local funds to purchase promotional materials to support his campaign for the organization's top post.

Bill Hill, the superintendent of the Deer Valley district in Phoenix, will repay the school system more than $25,000. The money was used to produce newsletters, posters, campaign brochures, and other items. Many of those materials were circulated or displayed during the AASA convention in Orlando, Fla., in February of last year. (AASA President-Elect's Promotional Spending Reviewed," Jan. 16, 2002.)

A lawyer hired by the school board to review the matter identified the costs Mr. Hill had to reimburse, which also included about $5,400 for the time school district personnel spent working on the AASA campaign.

Timothy Tait, the district's spokesman, said the superintendent has agreed to repay the full amount to the district without questioning the total. Mr. Hill had believed that his campaign for the AASA post would help bring national exposure to the growing, 29,000-student district.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Judge Orders Tenn. District To Stop K-5 Bible Classes

A Tennessee district must end its Bible classes for elementary school students, a federal judge has decided.

U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar ruled Feb. 8 that the Rhea County school system had violated the First Amendment's clause prohibiting a government establishment of religion by offering 30-minute Bible classes in grades K-5. The case was brought by two parents and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization based in Madison, Wis.

The classes, which have been offered for more than 50 years, were taught by students from a local Christian college. Although the 3,000- student district argued that the classes were optional and a part of its character education program, it had never adopted written guidelines for the classes, according to Judge Edgar's decision. And even though parents could request an alternative class, there is no evidence that a child had opted out of the Bible classes, he wrote.

The case was closely watched in part because of the district's history—it was the site of the famous "monkey trial" in 1925, in which science teacher John T. Scopes was tried for teaching evolution instead of biblical accounts of the origins of species.

—Joetta L. Sack

Philadelphia Boy Injured During Officer's Safety Talk

A Philadelphia police officer accidentally fired her gun during a demonstration in a 4th grade classroom this month, injuring a 10-year-old boy.

James Reeves needed five stitches to close the wound on his right cheek after the Feb. 6 incident, but went home that night.

The accident occurred when Officer Vanessa Carter-Moragne, 39, who has worked for the police department for six years, gave a presentation on safety and responsibility to her son's class at Imani Education Circle Charter School, a K-8 school in Philadelphia's Germantown neighborhood.

During the presentation, the children asked if they could see her gun, so the officer unloaded her 9 mm Glock weapon and allowed the students to handle it, said Officer Carmen Torres, a police spokeswoman.

While Officer Carter-Moragne was reloading the weapon, she accidentally pulled the trigger. The bullet struck the floor, but fragments hit James in the cheek, Ms. Torres said.

Officer Carter-Moragne has been placed on desk duty pending the outcome of an investigation by the police department's internal-affairs division, the spokeswoman said.

—Catherine Gewertz

Pupils Send Valentine's Day Notes To U.S. Troops Overseas

Though rife with misspellings, their message was clear: "Be brave and help our contry," "We miss you but don't warry cause we still love you," and "Dear Army mans' We love you."

In a massive expression of gratitude, two truckloads of greetings from American schoolchildren were shipped off last week to U.S. troops serving overseas in the war on terrorism.

Dubbed "Operation Valentine," the campaign began as the brainchild of the Washington-based International Neighbors Club I, private group made up of spouses of U.S. government leaders.

The club enlisted the help of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, which last month sent letters to its members inviting their schools to participate. In all, some 4,000 schools, including tens of thousands of students, took part in creating the mostly hand-made valentines. The National Confectioners Association also donated hundreds of thousands of pieces of candy, which accompanied the notes.

Although the three sponsors unveiled the effort at a press event last week, officials with the Alexandria, Va.-based NAESP said they intentionally did little to publicize the effort while preparations were under way because the prospect of sending letters to soldiers posed security concerns.

June Million, a spokeswoman for the principals' organization, said many of the valentines featured flags and images of the fallen World Trade Center towers. Some were in Spanish, and some included poems beginning with, "roses are red, violets are blue ...."

The effort, she said, seemed to tap a need by schools to express their feelings following the terrorist attacks in New York City and outside Washington. Said Ms. Million: "The principals are so eager to have kids do something in response to September 11."

—Jeff Archer

Maryland State Board Overturns Firing Of District Superintendent

The Maryland board of education last week overturned the controversial firing of a local superintendent, ruling that local boards do not have the authority to dismiss their chief executives.

The board's unanimous decision is a setback for the Prince George's County school board, which fired Superintendent Iris T. Metts on Feb. 2 in a move that many state leaders saw as petty politics. The Prince George's board blamed Ms. Metts for a failure to turn around the ailing school system and for poor communications with the board.

The ruling undid Ms. Metts' firing, but it also stunned local school board members statewide, who generally believed they could fire as well as hire superintendents for their school systems.

Maryland appears to be the only state that allows the dismissal of a local superintendent only after the state superintendent gives permission. The law is little known, in part because boards in Maryland and elsewhere usually remove superintendents by failing to renew or buying out their contracts, rather than firing the administrators outright.

Meanwhile, a bill to strip the board of the 132,000-student Prince George's County district of most its power in favor of a "crisis management panel" has been moving through the legislature. Some state leaders, including the governor, want ultimately to replace the current elected board with one that includes members appointed by the governor and perhaps the head of the county government. ("Rift Over Schools Chief Leads Md. to Intervene," Feb. 13, 2002.)

—Bess Keller

New Jersey School Objects to Boy's Wheelchair Message

Officials at a small New Jersey school have decided that "bad ass"—a phrase embroidered on the wheelchair of one of its students—is unacceptable language for a learning environment.

Jared Guarino, 13, who has cerebral palsy, returned to South Hackensack Memorial School this academic year with a new wheelchair, complete with the label stitched into the back of his chair. Since then, administrators and the boy's mother have been debating whether the language is inappropriate for school and how best to conceal it.

Jared's mother did blacken the white letters with marker, said Chief School Administrator William G. DeFabiis. But the language was still clearly visible, he said, so now officials at the 250-student public school require the student to keep the phrase covered with a piece of fabric during the school day.

"There are certain rights students have as individuals," Mr. DeFabiis said. "This is not acceptable or appropriate for a school setting, but it also infringes on the rights of other students and teachers by subjecting them to vulgar language."

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Vol. 21, Issue 23, Page 4

Published in Print: February 20, 2002, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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