News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Teacher's Union Election Draws Fire in L.A.

Teachers' union members in Los Angeles may have to return to the polls a third time in an attempt to elect the organization's next leader.

At least one challenge has been filed contesting the results of the union's presidential runoff election held earlier this month, said Steve Blazak, a spokesman for the 41,000-member United Teachers Los Angeles, and a second challenge may be on the way.

Becki Robinson, who lost to John Perez by 98 votes out of 10,000 cast and is challenging the result, contends that there were "apparent violations" of the rules, although she declined to elaborate. ("Los Angeles Teachers Elect Hard-to-Define Union Leader," April 17, 2002.)

Neither Mr. Perez nor Ms. Robinson garnered a majority of votes in the initial election earlier this year, as is required to win the post, thus triggering the recent runoff.

A UTLA election committee will decide how to proceed with challenges to the vote, Mr. Blazak said.

—Julie Blair

Vt.Wrestler, School Penalized For Use of Chokehold

A Vermont high school senior who used an illegal wrestling chokehold has been stripped of his state championship and his school has been placed on probation.

A report released on April 9 by the Vermont Principals' Association concluded that the student at Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington, Vt., used the move to render his opponent unconscious during a 160- pound championship match in February.

It was the fourth time within a year the wrestler used a chokehold, association officials said.

"This is very serious misconduct," wrote W. Scott Blanchard, the association's executive director. "Never before have we encountered a situation in which a competitor took action that placed others at such substantial risk. Never before have we encountered a situation in which a coaching staff's response to placing athletes at risk was so disturbing."

Mount Anthony Union High School was declared ineligible to host the state wrestling championships for one year.

—John Gehring

Florida Teacher Loses License For Alleged Breach of Test

An elementary school teacher in Naples, Fla., must surrender her state teaching license after pleading no contest to charges that she illegally attempted to photocopy questions from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Loretta Young, a 5th grade math teacher, was charged with an attempted violation of test-security rules, a misdemeanor. Collier County Judge Vince Murphy withheld a finding of guilt. If convicted, Ms. Young could have been sentenced to up to 60 days in jail.

The FCAT is a state test given to students in grades 3-10. Prosecutors charged that in March 2001, Ms. Young, 38, knowingly attempted to violate test security by directing the photocopy center at Shadowlawn Elementary School to copy the previous year's test booklet.

According to a statement from Ms. Young's lawyer, Mark A. Casassa, "Ms. Young has decided to walk away from her teaching career, as she has become extremely disillusioned by a system that has chosen to slander a teacher rather than teach and facilitate education."

—Lynn Olson

Court: Young Packers Fan's Speech Rights Not Violated

A Minnesota parent who had claimed his son was punished for expressing allegiance to the wrong professional football team has lost a court battle.

U.S. District Judge Ann D. Montgomery ruled April 8 that the 2,500-student New Prague school district did not violate the rights of 4th grader Rocky Sonkowsky when they kept him from attending a pizza party at a practice facility of the Minnesota Vikings.

The boy's father, Roy Sonkowsky, had contended that officials at New Prague Intermediate School had repeatedly punished the student for wearing Green Bay Packers clothing in 1999 and 2000, when the school took part in a statewide geography contest, sponsored in part by the Vikings. Joined by the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, the Sonkowskys sued the district, which they argued had violated the boy's free-speech rights.

But in her ruling this month, Judge Montgomery of Minneapolis wrote that school officials are allowed to discipline students whose behavior is disruptive. Further, the judge ruled that the discipline meted out to Rocky did not violate his right to an education. "There is no constitutional right for a 9-year-old to wear a Green Bay Packers jersey to elementary school," she wrote.

—Jeff Archer

Anonymous Donor Saves Lamb From Slaughter at N.C. School

A lamb raised by a high school agriculture class in North Carolina survived the threat of slaughter when an anonymous donor bought the animal this month.

The 6-month-old lamb was born unexpectedly and raised by students in the animal sciences class at Bandys High School in Catawba County, N.C., about 60 miles northwest of Charlotte. The local humane society and some local residents had protested the decision by the teacher to slaughter the animal.

The teacher had intended to give students a real farm experience, and the class planned to eat the meat at a banquet. The state allows for the slaughter of animals in agriculture classes.

School officials wouldn't say how much the donor paid, but noted that the buyer intends to keep the animal alive and well.

—Alan Richard

Wisconsin Team Takes Decathlon Title

A team from Wisconsin's Waukesha West High School won the United States Academic Decathlon this month—the first time a school from outside California or Texas has won the intellectual face-off in its 21-year history.

This year's national competition was overshadowed when two Texas school districts—Lubbock and Pasadena—went to court in an effort to settle a dispute over whether Lubbock High School or J. Frank Dobie High School had won the state title. All told, the districts and the Texas Academic Decathlon Association paid $143,000 in legal fees, according to news reports. ("Scoring Dispute Casts Pall Over Texas Academic Decathlon," April 17, 2002.)

The Lubbock High team ultimately traveled to Phoenix for the April 11-13 national competition and finished in fourth place overall. The team from the 1,370-student Waukesha West beat out 54 other teams from 36 other states to win the overall competition. It was the school's first appearance at the decathlon.

—Michelle Galley


Byron R. White, the former professional football star who served 31 years on the U.S. Supreme Court, died of complications of pneumonia last week at age 84.

Byron R. White

Justice White consistently voted in favor of strong school desegregation remedies. In 1979, he wrote the court's majority opinions in Dayton Board of Education v. Brinkman (Dayton II) and Columbus Board of Education v. Penick, which upheld systemwide busing orders for districts that had not been segregated by law at the time of the high court's 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

He also wrote two important decisions concerning school administrators' authority. In 1985, in New Jersey v. T.L.O., the court held that the ban on unreasonable searches applied to searches by school officials, but said that "reasonable grounds" for suspecting that a student had broken laws or school rules were enough to justify a search. And in 1988, Justice White wrote the court's majority decision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, which gave school officials wide leeway in regulating student speech in school-sponsored publications and activities.

Justice White was appointed to the court in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy. He retired in 1993 and was replaced by Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

—Mark Walsh

William Alexander Stewart, a linguist who studied language differences among African-Americans, died March 25 of complications from diabetes. He was 71.

Mr. Stewart, a professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center, was among the first to identify the distinct grammatical rules of African-American Vernacular English, later called "ebonics."

In the mid- 1960s, he published a series of scholarly articles attacking the popular notion that black students who spoke in dialect were not as intelligent as speakers of standard English.

Mr. Stewart developed a variety of classroom materials that treated ebonics as a foreign language. He lobbied for teachers to be trained to understand the language differences common among black students and to adapt their instruction accordingly, an approach now used by some urban districts around the country.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Vol. 21, Issue 32, Page 4

Published in Print: April 24, 2002, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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