News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Retired Educators Launch Effort to Retain Teachers

A group of mostly retired educators last week announced a national effort to keep more new teachers from leaving the profession.

The 1-million-member group, formerly known as the National Retired Teachers Association and now dubbed NRTA: AARP's Educator Community, expects to convene a panel of business and education leaders early in the new year to guide the initiative. The AARP is the nation's largest membership organization for people over 50.

The three-year effort will include new research on the problem of teacher turnover and possible solutions, as well as regional panels to address the issue in various communities across the country.

Muriel Cooper, a spokeswoman for the AARP, said the educators' group will use "the collective brainpower of educators who stayed" to address new-teacher attrition, which more and more observers are fingering as the chief culprit in teacher shortages.

—Bess Keller

Milton Hershey School Plans to Revamp Board

The Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pa., one of the country's richest K-12 private schools, has announced plans to overhaul its 17-member board of managers.

Eleven board members will step down by Jan. 7, but only four of them will be replaced, leaving a 10-member board, according to a Nov. 14 press release from the school. In addition, the school's president, William L. Lepley, who had planned to retire at the end of the school year and is included among the board members who are stepping down, will leave on Dec. 1.

Last week, the school named John A. O'Brien, a 1961 Hershey School graduate, as interim president. Mr. O'Brien is the founder and president of Renaissance Leadership, a consulting company in Easton, Md.

The school's managers also run the Hershey Trust Co., which oversees a trust of about $5.5 billion that supports the school. Hershey Trust Co. owns about half of the equity and three-fourths of the voting power in Hershey Foods Corp., the world-famous candy manufacturer founded by the late Milton S. Hershey.

In July, the board of managers announced plans to explore selling the candy company. Ultimately, the board members rejected such a sale by a 10-7 vote in September after Hershey townspeople, alumni of the school, and others vehemently protested the idea.

Seven of the board members who are leaving, including Mr. Lepley, voted for the sale of Hershey Foods, according to a spokesman for Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher. More than 6,500 people had filed a petition with Mr. Fisher this fall asking for the removal of the school's trustees. ("Hershey School Lives With Controversy," Oct. 16, 2002.)

—Mary Ann Zehr

Teacher Sues NRA For Using Students' Work

A former 4th grade teacher in Indiana is suing the National Rifle Association for libel over an article published in its America's 1st Freedom magazine.

The article quoted parts of an editorial arguing against the right to bear arms that was written by the teacher's students as a class project.

Julie Akers, 27, whose lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court, said she received threatening phone calls, letters, and e-mails after the magazine published a January 2002 article entitled "Let 'Em Be Indoctrinated, Lied to, and Such."

The article included parts of a group assignment written by her students at James B. Eads Elementary School in Munster, Ind. Students picked the essay topic on their own, and their work was never supposed to leave the school system, said Ms. Akers, who now teaches 6th grade in Wilmette, Ill. She added that she did not tell the students what side to take.

"A teacher works for [students'] respect in a community and school through the families that he or she works with. In one article, the NRA seemed to take that all away from me," Ms. Akers said in an e-mail to Education Week.

Officials with the NRA did not return repeated calls for comment.

—Nashiah Ahmad

Agency Accredits College That Teaches Creationism

A national accreditation agency has reversed its decision denying certification of Patrick Henry College after the private school geared to graduates of home schooling amended its statement on teaching creationism.

The Washington-based American Academy for Liberal Education on Nov. 2 granted preaccreditation status to the 150-student Christian college in Purcellville, Va., after school officials clarified its "Statement of Biblical Worldview."

The statement now says that biology faculty members will "provide a full exposition of the claims of the theory of Darwinian evolution, intelligent design, and other major theories while, in the end, teach creation as both biblically true and as the best fit to observed data."

Paul J. Bonicelli, the dean of academic affairs for the college, said Patrick Henry has never prevented students from learning different views about man's origins.

"We teach all the relevant theories of origin. But we think that creationism is true," he said. "There's no such thing as teaching students too much. If there's a raging debate out there, then they should know about it."

In May, college officials appealed the accrediting body's initial decision, and an outside panel of college administrators sided with Patrick Henry. The organization then negotiated with the college's board of trustees to amend its statement on teaching creationism. ("Creationism Controversy," May 22, 2002.)

—Rhea R. Borja

U.S. Officials Probing Complaint Of Racial Harassment at School

The U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights is investigating allegations of racial harassment at a high school in Texas' Frisco Independent School District.

The complaints, which came from a parent, allege racially motivated fighting, derogatory racial remarks directed at students, and racial epithets written in some common areas of Frisco High School, said Rodger Murphey, a spokesman for the Education Department.

Mr. Murphey said the OCR was investigating the complaints, which were filed on May 20, and expected to finish collecting data this week. After that, the Education Department will share any findings with school officials and work with them to correct any problems with a "resolution agreement," he said.

The department can withhold federal funding if districts do not comply; however, that threat has never been carried out, Mr. Murphey added.

The 11,140-student district does not consider the complaints "newsworthy," spokeswoman Shana Wortham said in an e- mail. Because the investigation is ongoing, Ms. Wortham would not discuss the specifics of the case, but said district officials have responded "appropriately to all claims or complaints of racial discrimination" in the schools.

—Michelle R. Davis


Glenn L. Archer Sr., an outspoken advocate of church-state separation in the public schools and in government activities generally, died Nov. 15 in Olney, Md. He was 96.

A former high school principal and superintendent of schools in Kansas, Mr. Archer served as the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State for nearly 30 years before his retirement in 1976. The Washington-based advocacy organization is a leading opponent of school prayer and government aid to religious schools.

Mr. Archer joined Americans United, then called Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in 1948, one year after its founding, and "established a firm foundation for the organization," said Robert Boston, a spokesman for the group.

The Densmore, Kan., native was known as "a human dynamo" and "had a reputation as a spellbinding speaker," Mr. Boston said.

Before joining Americans United, Mr. Archer worked in the 1940s as an executive with the Kansas State Teachers Association and co-chaired a three-day White House Conference on Rural Education in 1944.

A lawyer, he also helped set up the legislative division of the National Education Association and served as the union's director of federal relations and legislative activities.

—Mary-Ellen Phelps Deily

Vol. 22, Issue 13, Page 4

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