News in Brief: A National Roundup

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USAID Provides Grant To Refurbish Iraqi School

The U.S. Agency for International Development has awarded a small grant for the rehabilitation of a secondary school in Umm Qasr, a port city in Iraq.

The $13,000 grant is expected to pay for hammers and nails and other supplies to refurbish a 400- student secondary school for boys that was in disrepair before the U.S.-led war with Iraq began, said Ellen Yount, a spokeswoman for the agency.

The grant is one of four—totaling $89,000—that USAID awarded last week to help the city of Umm Qasr. The grants are the first postwar grants provided in Iraq through the agency's Office of Transition Initiative.

The work on the secondary school will be administered by the International Organization for Migration, a Brussels-based, intergovernmental organization that assists migrants and refugees.

Ms. Yount said small immediate grants, such as those for Umm Qasr, are intended to complement other large-scale reconstruction efforts planned by the development agency. ("U.S.-Led Effort Girds to Reinvent Iraqi Schools," April 23, 2003.)

—Mary Ann Zehr

U.S. Judge Rules Poem Writer Must Be Reinstated at School

A federal judge has ruled that the Fort Worth, Texas, school district and its superintendent violated a 17-year-old student's rights by reassigning him to a different high school after he wrote a poem considered to be a "terroristic threat" against another student.

Terry Carter, a senior honors student, returned to 1,200-student Dunbar High School on April 23, two months after the district had barred him from the school.

A female student had complained that she felt threatened by the words in a rap poem Mr. Carter wrote for extra credit and read in a theater arts class on Jan. 30. One stanza of the poem contained the name of the girl, with references to a gun and pulling a trigger.

After hearing about the poem, the district immediately suspended Mr. Carter, and a disciplinary panel later ruled for him to be reassigned to an alternative school for 90 days, said Eileen Houston-Stewart, a spokeswoman for the 81,000-student district.

Superintendent Thomas Tocco reduced the sentence to 10 days, and Mr. Carter was given an "administrative transfer" to another school, she said.

Mr. Carter's lawyer appealed the reassignment, but it was denied, and the student was sent to Trimble Technical High School. His mother sued the district, saying the transfer violated Mr. Carter's right to due process.

Since the April 22 ruling by U.S. District Judge John H. McBryde, in Fort Worth, Mr. Carter has been given a new class schedule at Dunbar, and the offended student will remain at the school, Ms. Houston- Stewart said. The district plans to appeal the decision, she said.

—Hattie Brown

D.C. Mayor Backs Bush Plan For Vouchers in Capital City

In a surprise turnaround, Mayor Anthony A. Williams of the District of Columbia declared last week that he supports President Bush's proposal to allow Washington schoolchildren to use federal money to attend private school.

Mr. Williams' statement, made during a May 1 tour of a local charter school with U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, contradicted his earlier statements that he opposed such a program. The federal vouchers could be used for private school tuition or to defray the costs of transferring to other public schools.

Members of the mayor's staff were not immediately available to explain his apparent change of heart. But he told The Washington Post that after lengthy talks with the Bush administration, he decided vouchers might help district school children. Such a program would be "balanced" with other direct federal aid to the district, he said.

Kevin P. Chavous, a member of the District of Columbia Council, and Peggy Cooper-Cafritz, the president of the city school board—who both accompanied Mr. Williams on the tour—also stated their support of parental choice, including traditional schools, charter schools, and vouchers. Ms. Cooper-Cafritz had until recently been opposed to vouchers.

The three city officials' comments were warmly received by voucher proponents.

The Center for Education Reform, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, issued a statement saying their backing would "no doubt strengthen the resolve for members of Congress who have been working to gain consensus" on such programs.

—Catherine Gewertz

Cincinnati Closes School Found to Contain Lead Dust

The discovery of lead dust and paint chips in classrooms has prompted Cincinnati school officials to close an elementary school and inspect nearly two dozen others.

About 600 students will be relocated to a nearby vacant school building while Heberle Elementary School is cleaned, said Christine Wolff, a district spokeswoman. The school, closed last month, is expected to reopen in the fall.

School officials found out about the elementary school's lead- contamination problems after a Heberle student tested positive for high levels of lead. The Cincinnati health department inspected the school and found traces of lead paint chips and dust.

Lead exposure can cause learning and behavioral problems, seizures, and sometimes death. ("Study Cites Threat From Exposure to Lower Levels of Lead," April 30, 2003.)

Officials plan to inspect 22 of the district's 79 schools for lead contamination, focusing on older buildings.

—Hattie Brown

Former North Carolina Governor Wins Award From Researchers

The American Educational Research Association, a Washington-based group that represents 20,000 educational researchers from around the world, has given its first-ever award for distinguished public service to former Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina.

Mr. Hunt was honored for working to improve early- childhood education and the quality of teaching during his years as governor— from 1977 to 1985 and from 1993 to 2001—and for his current work heading the Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy, in Chapel Hill, N.C.

"What is truly outstanding about Governor Hunt's record is that he focused the public spotlight on improving schools more than 20 years ago, long before chief executives in other states even knew what it meant to be an 'education governor,'" said Lorraine McDonnell, the University of California, Santa Barbara, researcher who presented the award last month.

—Debra Viadero

Illinois Board Officials Charged In Food-Poisoning Incident

One current and one retired employee of the Illinois state board of education were indicted last week in connection with a food-poisoning incident at a Joliet school.

Jeff Tomczak, the Will County state's attorney, filed criminal misdemeanor charges of reckless conduct against the officials who oversaw the state's school lunch program.

The two are accused of "recklessly endangering" students by ignoring warnings that food sent to schools had been contaminated during an ammonia leak at a storage facility in St. Louis in 2001.

Students and teachers at Laraway Elementary School in Joliet ate chicken tenders last November that had been tainted by ammonia, and 42 became sick.

Robert E. Schiller, the state superintendent of education, said in a statement that one of the employees who was charged retired in February. The other has been removed from his position and will be reassigned.

Mr. Schiller added that the state board has conducted its own investigation of the food-poisoning incident and has made "appropriate changes" in procedures to safeguard children's welfare.

—Ann Bradley

L.A. Schools' Inspector Faults Consultants' Pay

The Los Angeles Unified School District paid extraordinary fees to consultants for its facilities program, a report by the district's inspector general has found.

Four executives were paid $200 to $300 an hour, totaling $2.5 million, for work over a two-year period, according to the report publicized late last month. The consultants were hired to identify, purchase, and prepare land for large school construction projects. The report did not find any wrongdoing in their work, but suggests that permanent employees might have been able to do some of the tasks.

In a memo responding to the report, Jim McConnell, the district's chief facilities executive, said that the consultants had "clearly benefited" the district in quickly obtaining large parcels of land and in securing much larger amounts of state funds.

—Joetta L. Sack

Vol. 22, Issue 34, Page 4

Published in Print: May 7, 2003, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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