News in Brief: A National Roundup

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K.C. Students Strip Searched Over Missing Lunch Money

A principal and two teachers in Kansas City, Mo., have been suspended with pay after 23 elementary school students allegedly were strip-searched in an effort to track down $5 in missing lunch money.

When none of the students in a 3rd grade class at Pitcher Elementary School confessed to taking the money, a female teacher took the girls into a restroom and had them strip down to their underwear, a spokesman for the 28,400-student Kansas City school district said.

A male physical education teacher took the boys into the gym, where they also were told to strip down to their underwear, the spokesman said. The money was later found in a boys' restroom, he said, but it was not found as part of the searches.

"The district has concluded that improper searches of 3rd grade students occurred in an egregious violation of district policy," a school system statement released to the news media March 27 said. "The district finds the conduct of the adults directly involved in this incident to be abhorrent."

District officials said that the school's principal, Jana Schwimmer, did not know about the searches until after they had taken place. The district has concluded an investigation into the March 18 incident, but won't release the results until the school board has reviewed the findings.

—John Gehring

Georgia Teachers Resign After Showing R-Rated Film

Two Georgia high school teachers have resigned after showing an R-rated Mel Brooks movie to six special education students.

Greg Runyan and Jack Pollock, who taught at South Gwinnett High School in suburban Atlanta, chose to resign when administrators began investigating why they had allowed the students to watch the 1981 film, "History of the World Part 1."

Sloan Roach, a spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County school district, said the teachers showed the movie as a reward to the students, who had emotional and behavioral disabilities. A student brought it in for the class to watch, she said.

Another student later complained to an administrator, who reported it to the district's human resources office and the state's department of children and family services.

The district has specific guidelines for showing movies in class, but the teachers would not necessarily have been fired pending the results of the investigation, Ms. Roach said.

—Joetta L. Sack

Los Angeles Board Revokes Software Firm's Contract

The Los Angeles school board has reversed a vote it had cast to award a software-services contract to a local company.

In a March 19 vote, the board decided to withdraw the previous week's vote to approve a three-year, $6.3 million contract with Reality Based Learning to provide literacy software for the district's adult education programs.

Board members believed they were buying services from a Redmond, Wash.- based company, but it turned out that they had chosen a smaller, Los Angeles spinoff of the company that did not provide the program they sought.

The original vote to approve the contract occurred after strong lobbying by California Senate Majority Leader Richard G. Polanco, a Democrat. The board learned later that a close friend of the state lawmaker provides office space for the Los Angeles-based Reality Based Learning.

—Catherine Gewertz

Texas Spec. Ed. Student Dies After Being Restrained

A Texas teenager who was restrained by school staff members because of his allegedly disruptive behavior died after intense pressure was applied to his chest, a preliminary autopsy has found.

Cedrick Napoleon, 14, a 7th grade special education student at Manor Middle School in Killeen, about an hour's drive north of Austin, died March 7 after a female teacher and a male aide tried to restrain him.

Bob Massey, a spokesman for the 31,000-student Killeen school district, said police officials from the city and the school district had not yet completed their investigations, so details of what happened that day were not yet clear.

Cedrick's foster mother told the Austin American-Statesman that students in the class said the boy was simply trying to leave the classroom to get food when staff members restrained him.

Preliminary autopsy results showed the cause of death to be "mechanical compression of the trunk." A medical examiner who did not participate in the autopsy told the Austin newspaper that such results suggest someone was pressing against the boy or lying on top of him with enough force that he had difficulty breathing.

The teacher and aide who restrained the student, along with another aide who was in the classroom at the time, have been placed on leave, Mr. Massey said.

—Catherine Gewertz

Buffalo Residents Raise Money To Support School Field Trips

A grocery store chain and a local education foundation are enlisting the help of Buffalo, N.Y., shoppers to raise money to provide transportation for student field trips.

Because of worsening financial conditions, the 44,000-student district began phasing out district support for field trips five years ago, shifting the transportation costs to the schools, said Andrew Maddigan, the special assistant to the superintendent.

This year, as the district copes with a $28 million budget shortfall, bearing the budget burden of field trips is becoming even more difficult. Among other steps, the district has laid off many of its teachers to ease its financial plight. ("Budget Problems Force Big Layoffs in Buffalo Schools," Dec. 12, 2001.)

Cultural centers, the Buffalo Alliance for Education, and Tops Friendly Markets, a Williamsville, N.Y.-based grocery store chain, established the Field Trip Fund this month to keep field trip buses rolling. Tops customers can contribute by purchasing $2 coupons with their groceries, and donations can be made at 10 of the city's cultural attractions, including the zoo and the philharmonic orchestra.

Organizers hope to raise $50,000 this month to cover field trip transportation costs for public, private, and parochial school students in New York's Erie and Niagara counties. Another fund-raising drive will begin in the fall.

Schools can then apply for field trip grants through the Buffalo Alliance for Education, which will distribute the money. Pat Jensen, the executive director of the nonprofit organization, said the city's cultural centers also were feeling the reverberations of tight economic times. The city is reducing its financial support for cultural attractions and, with student attendance down, Buffalo's museums, galleries, music centers, and zoo are suffering.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Federal Judge Approves Yonkers Settlement

A $300 million settlement approved by a federal judge last week brings the decades-old Yonkers, N.Y., desegregation to an end.

U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand signed off on the five-year agreement March 26, clearing the way for state dollars to fill the school system's $4.2 million funding gap this fiscal year. In 1985, Judge Sand found that the city and the school system had racially segregated schools.

Under the agreement, the 26,400-student district will receive $70 million this year and $230 million over the next four years. That money must support programs that boost students' academic achievement. State officials, the local school board, the city, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People reached the accord in January. ("Yonkers Desegregation Suit May Be Nearing End," Jan.16, 2002.)

But the NAACP and the federal government believe that four decades of segregation still negatively affect students. The city, the school board, and the state, however, contend that there is no relationship between student performance and segregation.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Six Va. Students Are Charged In Alleged Counterfeiting Scheme

Six students at a Virginia high school have been charged in connection with counterfeit $10 bills that showed up in their school cafeteria last month.

Three phony bills were discovered beginning March 5 in the cafeteria receipts at Varina High School in the Henrico County school district near Richmond, according to police. A fourth bill was found in the possession of one of the Varina High students charged in the case.

The student who allegedly produced the counterfeit bills on a home computer was charged with forging a bank note, while four others were charged with passing forged bank notes, which are both felony offenses under Virginia law, said Sgt. Tom Shumate of the Henrico County police division. A sixth student was charged with misdemeanor possession of a forged bank note with the intention of passing it. The students range in age from 14 to 17.

A spokeswoman for the 42,000-student district declined to comment. The students are scheduled to appear April 15 in juvenile court in Henrico County.

—Mark Walsh

Vol. 21, Issue 29, Page 4

Published in Print: April 3, 2002, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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