News in Brief: A National Roundup

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L.A. Pulls Copies of Koran After Footnotes Draw Fire

The Los Angeles school district has removed some 300 donated copies of a translation of the Koran after some of the footnotes in the books were deemed derogatory toward Jews.

The texts were donated by the Omar Ibn Khattab Foundation this month for placement in school libraries alongside the Bible and other religious texts. School officials did not realize there were editorial comments throughout the books, according to Jim Konantz, the director of information technology for the 723,000-student district.

Copies of book, titled The Meaning of the Holy Quran, were recalled after a history teacher complained that at least one footnote was anti-Semitic.

The books had not undergone the standard content review, officials said, because the donor had been supportive of schools in the past, and district officials agreed that schools should have copies of the sacred book of Islam.

The foundation, which provides information about Islamic religion and culture, has agreed to donate substitute books, which will first be reviewed by a committee of school officials and community members.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Miami-Dade Board Member Hit With Election Charges

Frank J. Cobo, a member of the Miami-Dade County school board, faces allegations that he committed 117 violations of state election laws.

Mr. Cobo, who was elected to the board last year, was notified of the charges by the Florida Elections Commission this month. He faces up to $279,000 in fines.

The charges stem from complaints made by a former board member, Jacqueline Pepper, whom Mr. Cobo defeated to win his seat.

The complaints involve, among other matters, campaign-spending deadlines, methods of paying aides, and the use of petty cash, according to state documents.

In a statement, Mr. Cobo called any possible violations "inadvertent," and said his former opponent had blown them out of proportion.

—Alan Richard

Dallas Considers Switch To District-Run Police Force

Members of the Dallas school district's security force could become full- fledged police officers if a plan by Manny Vasquez, the district's chief security officer, is implemented.

The current 150-member force does not have the power to arrest students, said Donald J. Claxton, a spokesman for the 164,000-student district. Security officers can only enforce district policies, such as the dress code.

The district has a $1 million contract with the Dallas Police Department that provides the district with 30 officers. The police officers have the power to arrest students, but are not allowed to enforce district policies.

At a school board meeting this month, Mr. Vasquez proposed that the district transform the security force into a 120-member police force over the course of six years, at an estimated cost of $1.7 million, and then end its contract with the city's police department.

Superintendent Mike Moses has said that he supports the proposal, according to Mr. Claxton, and the school board plans to discuss the plan at a future meeting.

—Michelle Galley

Calif. Bookkeeper Charged With Swiping School Funds

A former school bookkeeper accused of stealing more than $150,000 from a high school store in Westlake Village, Calif., to support a gambling habit has been charged with grand theft.

Police arrested Sandra Hofacker, 41, earlier this month, following an investigation that began in last April in the 21,000- student Conejo Valley Unified School District. Officials had noticed that money had disappeared from several accounts at Westlake High School.

Ms. Hofacker, a school bookkeeper for 12 years, was fired last July. She was dismissed because of evidence gathered from surveillance cameras that district officials had installed in her office and the student store, and problems that accountants found in the school's financial records, said Detective Jeffrey D. Hill of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

Mr. Hill said that the money was taken from the high school's student store and proceeds from sporting events and other school activities. The thefts date back to September 1999, he said.

Ms. Hofacker, who could not be reached for comment, is scheduled for a Feb. 28 arraignment.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Pa. Department of Education Sues 'Cyber' Charter School

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has filed a lawsuit asking a state court to resolve a conflict involving state funding for an Internet-based school.

Charles B. Zogby, the state's secretary of education and a petitioner in the Feb. 8 suit, informed the court that he has stopped redirecting state money to Einstein Academy Charter School from districts that have refused to pay their bills to the school.

He said he was waiting for the results of an investigation into complaints about Einstein's quality of education. The lawsuit was filed against Einstein and the Morrisville Borough school district, which has oversight responsibility for Einstein's charter.

In response to the suit, Einstein Academy officials last week filed a request for an injunction that would ensure the continuation of state funding.

The education department has received complaints that the 2,200-student "cyber school" didn't give textbooks or a curriculum to some students and also failed to provide adequate special education services, according to the suit.

But John R. Severs, the chief executive officer and principal for Einstein Academy, said any of the school's problems relate to the state's inconsistency in delivering funding to the school.

John M. Gould, the superintendentof the 1,100-student Morrisville district, said that despite the lawsuit's claims to the contrary, his district has been closely monitoring Einstein from its opening in September and has considered the possibility of revoking its charter.

At the same time, he said, a large number of students seem to be satisfied with the education they're receiving from Einstein.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Valentine's Day Treats Cause The Fur to Fly

On Valentine's Day, giving children candy is dandy—but hold the heart-shaped cat treats, say school administrators in Cadiz, Ky. They are investigating what they're calling a prank by a teacher's aide, who offered cat snacks from a Valentine's candy box to dozens of students at Trigg County Middle School.

Most students recognized the Feb. 14 hoax, but about 36 students said they had tasted or eaten the treats, said officials at the 710-student school, which enrolls students in grades 5-8.

"It's a very serious incident, initially a prank, but involving adults," said Tim McGinnis, the superintendent of the Trigg County schools. "This gentleman did go in some classrooms; some of the teachers were caught off guard and were victims, too."

No children complained to school officials of any health effects from the Tender Vittles cat treats, although parents expressed outrage. The manufacturer of the treats told school authorities that the product contains no toxic ingredients.

The aide, whom officials would not name, was placed on leave during the investigation, which will result in "appropriate disciplinary measures," according to a statement issued by the school.

—Andrew Trotter

Mass. District Eyes Fees To Relieve Budget Woes

The superintendent of the Barnstable school district in Hyannis, Mass., has proposed a plan to charge students $200 a year to ride the bus to school.

The estimated $400,000 in fees the plan would produce would be used to hire more teachers and thus reduce class sizes for the district's secondary schools, said Russell Dever, the superintendent of the 7,000-student district on Cape Cod.

He added that his plan, unveiled this month, includes a $400 cap per family, and would apply only to students who live more than 2 miles away from their schools.

The district was forced to cut numerous programs after voters last year rejected a $6.7 million budget override.

In addition to the transportation fee, Mr. Dever has proposed increasing a $1,800-per-student charge for parents who want their children to attend full-day kindergarten instead of the half-day program the district currently offers.

Mr. Dever also proposed a $200 fee for musical-instrument instruction, a $200 fee for participation in the marching band, and a $25 increase to the existing $75 fee for taking part in sports programs.

The additional fees are necessary, Mr. Dever argues, because tough economic conditions and resulting budget cuts have forced the district to trim extracurricular activities.

Public hearings on the fee plan are scheduled to be held between Feb. 28 and March 12. Mr. Dever said he expects the transportation fee to stir some controversy, even though many nearby districts have already implemented similar fees.

—Michelle Galley

Vol. 21, Issue 24, Page 4

Published in Print: February 27, 2002, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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