News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Officials in Illinois Probe Melee at Girls' Game

Suburban Chicago police and school officials last week were investigating an off-campus girls' football game that veered out of control and sent five Glenbrook North High School students to the hospital.

Cook County Forest Preserve District police were expected to file criminal charges late last week, said Steve Mayberry, a police spokesman. School officials were considering disciplinary charges as well.

The "powder puff" football game, which was not school-sanctioned, degenerated into a brawl involving up to 100 students. The May 4 melee sent five female students to the hospital, one with a broken ankle and another with a gash in her head requiring 10 stitches, authorities said. A videotape of the fracas drew national media coverage.

Alcohol may have been a factor in the violence, officials said.

Dave Hales, the superintendent of suburban Northfield Township District 225, which includes the 2,100-student Glenbrook North, told the Chicago Tribune that the event wasn't so much a game as an ugly mob scene that involved hazing.

—Rhea R. Borja

Georgia Ed. Dept. Investigating Gwinnett Discipline Reports

The Georgia Department of Education is investigating the Gwinnett County school district's failure to accurately report disciplinary incidents.

The 123,000- student district, the state's largest, has acknowledged that it underreported by 23,000 incidents the number of disciplinary actions that occurred during the 2001-02 school year.

Officials from the state education department met last week with Gwinnett County administrators to address the problem, which was brought to light by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Bobby Crawson, the district's chief of staff, attributed the discrepancies to a combination of human error and technology. The district reported 4,000 disciplinary incidents, when it should have counted 27,000, he said.

Mr. Crawson said Gwinnett officials misinterpreted state criteria for reporting incidents. Computer programs have been rewritten and the district has trained employees on the process to use in reporting disciplinary incidents.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Federal Appeals Panel Upholds Young Packers Fan's Penalty

A Minnesota school district did not deprive a 4th grader of his constitutional rights by disciplining him in connection with his participation in a football- related program, a federal appeals panel ruled last week.

Roy Sonskowsky sued the 2,400-student New Prague district on behalf of his son, Rocky, arguing that the boy was prohibited from taking part in activities related to its "Gridiron Geography" curriculum, including a field trip to the Minnesota Vikings' training facility, because he was an outspoken Green Bay Packers fan.

U.S. District Judge Ann D. Montgomery ruled in April 2002 that the district had the right to discipline disruptive students, including barring Rocky from wearing a Packers jersey for a class photo that was to be sent to the Vikings.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit agreed, noting that Rocky had racked up a poor discipline record before being barred from the field trip. Teachers were concerned that the student would embarrass the school with disrespectful behavior and insults directed at the Vikings, the panel noted.

"The record overwhelmingly indicates that Rocky's conduct, independent of any expressive ideas, was the focus of the school's concerns," the panel said.

—Ann Bradley

Minn. Board Members Resign To Settle Parents' Lawsuit

The Barnesville, Minn., school district must pay $20,000 to a local parents' coalition, and two of its school board members must resign, under a settlement reached in a lawsuit alleging that school board members broke the state's open- meetings law dozens of times.

In a 16-point May 1 order, Clay County District Judge Kathleen Weir ruled that the 750-student district's insurer must pay the Coalition of Concerned Citizens as partial reimbursement for legal fees.

In addition, board Chairwoman Loretta Szweduik and board member Randy McEvers must resign, and the board must admit to unintentional violations of the open-meetings law and the state Data Practices Act, the judge ruled.

The parents' group sued the northwestern Minnesota district last September, alleging that the school board didn't give 72-hour notice of its meetings, as required by law, and met illegally many times through e- mail.

Among the decisions the seven-member board made in those meetings was not to renew the superintendent's contract after giving him a positive evaluation, and to make budget cuts, said Zenas Baer, the lawyer representing the coalition.

Ms. Szweduik defended the board's actions. The board relied on the district administration to post notice of meetings, she said. Also, while board members e-mailed one another on district business, they never met through cyberspace as a quorum of four or more members, which would require previous public notice, she said.

—Rhea R. Borja

Suburban Chicago Student Killed on Obstacle Course

A 15-year-old Chicago-area student died last week, four days after falling head first off a slide while navigating an obstacle course at his school.

Billy M. Pennington of Downers Grove, Ill., was injured on May 1 while going down a slide on an obstacle course in the gym at Downers Grove North High School. The U.S. Army had set up the course as part of the school's annual wellness-day activities.

The head trauma Mr. Pennington suffered from the fall was the cause of his death on May 5, according to a preliminary autopsy performed by the DuPage County coroner's office.

The coroner and Downers Grove police are investigating the cause of the accident, according to Coroner Richard R. Ballinger.

The U.S. Army Chicago Recruiting Battalion, which provided the obstacle course, is conducting its own investigation of the incident, according to Helen M. Elrod, a spokeswoman for the battalion, which is based in Highland Park, Ill.

—David J. Hoff

N.J. Senior Sues to Remain School's Sole Valedictorian

A New Jersey high school student has sued local school officials over a decision that would likely force her to share the title of valedictorian with at least one other student.

Blair L. Hornstine, a senior at Moorestown High School, filed suit against the Moorestown school board and Superintendent Paul J. Kadri in federal court this month, seeking $2.7 million in damages and alleging that the decision discriminates against her as a student enrolled in special education. Ms. Hornstine has a condition similar to chronic fatigue syndrome and has done much of her work at home.

In court papers, school officials said that Ms. Hornstine's independent program, in which she earned an A-plus average, allowed her to accumulate a higher grade point average than would be possible for students who took all their classes in school. That constituted an unfair advantage, which a new policy sought by Mr. Kadri seeks to redress, the papers said.

—Bess Keller

Milwaukee Board Rescinds Vote to Give Members Raises

Members of the Milwaukee school board have voted unanimously to revoke a 33 percent pay raise for themselves, after a budget released days after the increase was approved revealed that job cuts would be necessary in the district.

Superintendent William G. Andrekopoulos announced on May 1 that the 103,000-student district would have to cut more than 600 jobs, leading board members to rethink the increase, said board member Kenneth Johnson. A "large amount" of those cuts will come from open teacher positions that will not be filled, he said.

The school board voted 5-4 earlier that week, at the first meeting of the board following an April election, to approve the pay raise. With the increase, board members' annual pay would have risen from $18,121 to $24,059. But on May 2, board members voted not to take the raises.

—Hattie Brown

Vol. 22, Issue 36, Page 4

Published in Print: May 14, 2003, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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