News in Brief: A National Roundup

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District Sued Over Method For Proving Residence

Three parents who were required to present occupancy permits as proof of residence to register their children in an Ohio district have sued school and city officials to stop the practice.

Their suit, filed March 6 in U.S. District Court in Cleveland with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, alleges that the Maple Heights city government and school district violated their 14th Amendment right to due process of law and the Ohio Constitution's guarantee of a free public education.

The suit alleges that the 3,800-student district and city worked together to require the occupancy permits as a way of using children to enforce the city's building code. As many as 40 parents did not send their children to school last fall because they lacked the permits. The lawsuit contends that one plaintiff had to borrow money from her employer to make home repairs needed to get an occupancy permit.

Louis C. Damiani, the lawyer for the district, said he could not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit. "We'll file our answer and defend the district in court," he said.

—Mark Walsh

Albuquerque Breakup Plan Draws N.M. Governor's Veto

Gov. Gary E. Johnson of New Mexico has vetoed a bill that would have divided the Albuquerque school district into three separate districts.

"He saw no great upside to the division of the district," said Tim Walsh, the education adviser for Gov. Johnson, a Republican, who vetoed the bill this month. "It would not have had financial advantages."

Mr. Walsh said the start-up costs to create three new districts from the 85,000-student Albuquerque school system would have been high. If any of the three districts had included a smaller commercial tax base than the others, he added, homeowners likely would have faced a tax increase.

The bill was proposed by state Rep. James G. Taylor, an Albuquerque Democrat, who had said he wanted to give neighborhoods more power to change their schools, some of which are low- performing. The district would have had two years to come up with a partition plan, which then would have been put before voters.

But Mr. Walsh said Gov. Johnson heard from school board members who opposed dividing the district. In exchange for the veto, Albuquerque school board members have agreed to weigh the idea of contracting with private education companies to help troubled schools, Mr. Walsh said.

—Lisa Fine

Wrestling Coach in Indiana Charged With Animal Cruelty

The wrestling coach at an Indiana high school has been charged with "cruelty to an animal" for biting off the head of a live sparrow in front of the school wrestling team, an incident that drew international headlines.

Aron D. Bright, 31, could face up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine if convicted of the Class A misdemeanor in the Wayne County Superior Court.

The incident occurred on Dec. 28, at the house of Mr. Bright's parents on the eve of a two-day wrestling meet, with 15 varsity wrestlers and several assistant coaches present. The coach, who also teaches U.S. history and geography at Avon High School, has admitted that the incident happened and expressed contrition to the school community, according to Avon school officials.

The 5,500-student Avon district suspended Mr. Bright for two weeks without pay earlier this month, but he has now returned to the classroom, said Superintendent Richard E. Helton. The wrestling season ended in February. The community has been divided over the incident, which has attracted criticism from animal-rights activists along with unwelcome publicity. Members of the wrestling team are backing their coach, Mr. Helton said.

The superintendent said the district would await the outcome of the court case before deciding whether to take further action against Mr. Bright, who declined to be interviewed.

—Andrew Trotter

Cincinnati District Seeks Help In Saving School Ornamentation

Local preservationists have teamed up with Cincinnati school officials to save the decorative cherubs and medallions adorning a former elementary school set to be demolished this summer.

But the cost of salvaging the items exceeds the market value of most of the pieces, said Beth Sullebarger, the executive director of the Cincinnati Preservation Association.

Christine Wolff, a Cincinnati schools spokeswoman, said the district would seek private donations and possibly hold auctions to help in retrieving some of the most precious ornaments on the 74-year-old school.

Randall J. Condon School was closed in 1982 and will make way for Rockdale Academy, a K-8 school. The construction is part of the district's $996 million, decade-long plan to renovate or replace schools. The 41,000-student district has 75 schools, with an average age of 58 years.

Many of the terra-cotta decorations on Condon School were created by the Cincinnati-based Rookwood Pottery Co., whose products are popular collectors' items, Ms. Sullebarger said. The estimated cost of salvaging many of the historic items and storing them temporarily exceeds $200,000.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Teacher Offers Extra Credit For Buying Flag Stickers

A Florida high school teacher has been criticized and praised for her policy of giving students extra credit for buying American-flag stickers for charity in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

By purchasing a sticker for $1 from their teacher, students in Roohi Junejo's chemistry class at Leto High School could raise their grades by one one- hundredths of a point. The more stickers they bought, the more they raised their grades.

At least seven students spent a total of $20 on the stickers last fall. Ms. Junejo's actions became an issue after one student reported the practice to the principal, and another student was barred from running a column critical of the teacher's policy in the school newspaper.

District officials decided against an investigation or disciplinary action against Ms. Junejo. Administrators found that no student's final grade was changed because of the extra credit, and the teacher provided a letter that confirmed she had donated the money raised to the American Red Cross.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Mich. Father Wins Refund Of Laptop-Computer Fees

Michigan's Walled Lake school district will refund up to $150 to a parent who was dissatisfied with a district program that lets him lease a laptop computer for his daughter.

Ray Dubin, a parent of an 8th grader at Walled Lake Middle School, argued in a January letter to the state attorney general's office that he shouldn't have to pay the "Anytime Anywhere Learning" program's $50 monthly fee to lease a laptop because his daughter's computer had not been integrated into her classes as the district had promised. He wanted to be reimbursed the money he had paid since the beginning of the school year.

Mr. Dubin stated in his complaint that although his daughter's laptop had been integrated into her 6th and 7th grade classes, it was barely being used in the 8th grade. "It appears that the kids have resigned themselves to the fact that they won't be using their laptops this year," Mr. Dubin added in a February e-mail to Assistant Attorney General Stanley Pruss, the chief of the state's consumer-protection division.

After discussions with Mr. Pruss, Assistant Superintendent William A. Hamilton of the 15,000-student district agreed to refund any money Mr. Dubin had paid since January and allowed his daughter to opt of the program, a choice that the district gives all parents. Mr. Hamilton said that more than 1,500 parents have participated in the program, and that he's received only a handful of complaints.

—Rhea R. Borja

Parents of Slain Students File Claim Against District

The families of two students slain in a school shooting near San Diego last year are laying the groundwork for a civil lawsuit against the Grossmont Union High School District, where the slayings occurred.

Bryan Zuckor, 14, and Randy Gordon, 17, were killed in March 2001 in the 10-minute shooting spree at Santana High School in Santee, Calif. The accused gunman, 16- year-old Charles Andrew Williams, is being held in a juvenile-detention center on charges that include murder, attempted murder, and assault with a firearm.

Kenneth C. Hoyt, the families' lawyer, characterized their March 5 filing in the matter as a preliminary move in his investigation of whether the district shares any responsibility for the deaths. The claim was filed one day after Mr. Hoyt filed a separate lawsuit against the accused gunman and his father.

The complaint alleges that the district "failed to observe, detect, monitor, and supervise the conduct, actions, [and] mental, emotional, and psychological health" of Mr. Williams and was therefore negligent in its duty to protect other students.

Superintendent Granger Ward of the Grossmont Union district disagreed, saying "the full responsibility for the tragic loss of lives and injuries belongs squarely on the shoulders of [Mr. Williams], who brought a loaded weapon to school that was available to him in his home.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Vol. 21, Issue 28, Page 4

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