News in Brief: A National Roundup

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31 Students Expelled Over Hazing Incident

The Northfield Township School District No. 225 in Illinois expelled 31 seniors last week for involvement in a widely reported off-campus hazing incident. The school board of the 4,600-student district in Northbrook, a Chicago suburb, met for more than nine hours before voting 5-0 for the expulsions in the early hours of May 26.

Twenty-eight of those seniors from Glenbrook North High School—who were suspended after the videotaped May 4 fracas, in which senior girls pelted junior girls with animal feces and other debris—had signed waivers accepting expulsion in exchange for being able to receive their diplomas. The expulsions, which also covered three seniors who are challenging the district's actions in court, bar the students from graduation ceremonies and require them to perform community service and undergo counseling to get their diplomas.

The junior girls who were subjected to the hazing are also facing school discipline. The district has threatened suspension of 20 juniors for violating a state school code provision against school fraternities, sororities, and secret societies. The district was negotiating waivers with those students that would allow them to stay in school in exchange for participating in counseling and performing community service.

Meanwhile, a federal judge who had denied a request from two senior girls for a temporary restraining order overturning their punishments issued a written ruling in support of his decision. U.S. Chief District Judge Charles P. Kocoras, of Chicago, said that the school district was within its authority in disciplining students for the off-campus incident because the high school's student handbook expressly prohibits hazing by any student. ("Misbehavior Off Campus Raises Issues," May 28, 2003.)

"Given the egregious nature of some of the conduct depicted in the videotapes, the nexus of the event to Glenbrook North High School, and the fundamental relationship that all of the participants had to the school, to hold that a school was powerless to act in these circumstances is patently absurd," Judge Kocoras said in his May 21 opinion.

—Mark Walsh

Memphis Board Backs Off Spending $584 Each for Chairs

When school board members in Memphis, Tenn., proposed buying themselves ergonomically correct chairs at nearly $600 apiece, many residents wanted the idea tabled.

Board members late last month debated the idea of spending up to $7,000, or about $584 each, on 12 executive chairs to use at their twice-a- month meetings. Board member Patrice Robinson had said the regular chairs were causing her pain.

But a group of radio listeners had a different solution in mind. At the urging of the morning team of disc jockeys at the Rock 103 station in Memphis, listeners left cheap lawn chairs in front of the board's office in protest. "We thought $584 was an extravagant expense, given the financial problems the Memphis school system is facing," Tim Spencer, the director of programming for the station, said in an e-mail.

Mr. Spencer said listeners ended up donating about 50 plastic chairs.

The board has since voted to look for cheaper chairs for its nine members and the three district officials who sit alongside them during meetings. Board members, the board secretary, and the 118,000-student district's spokesman would not comment.

—Lisa Goldstein

Gates Foundation Announces Grants to Charter Networks

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced grants last week to two charter school networks in California.

As part of its nationwide effort to support small high schools, the foundation awarded $3 million to Envision Schools, a nonprofit charter-management organization, to start five new small schools in the San Francisco Bay area between 2004 and 2006. The organization, based in San Francisco, plans to open its first charter school, the Marin School of Arts and Technology in Novato, Calif., this coming fall.

Another $5.7 million went to Aspire Public Schools to open six new small charter schools in Los Angeles and strengthen the charter school organization that runs them. Aspire, based in Redwood City, Calif., operates seven charter schools in northern California. It helps them develop curricula, share effective practices, and streamline administrative costs.

—Ann Bradley

Phila. School Opts to Close Rather Than Renew Charter

A Philadelphia charter school has chosen to close its doors rather than face a hearing on whether it should be allowed to remain open.

When it closes on June 30, the Center for Economics and Law will be the first Philadelphia charter school to shut down since the state charter law went into effect in 1997.

The high school, which now enrolls about 300 students, opened in 1998. Its contract came up for renewal this spring, but the district's School Reform Commission said March 12 that the school must face a hearing first.

The panel said it could not conduct a full review of the school because it did not provide sufficient information to the district on student achievement and school operations. It also did not retain staff members and students at acceptable levels, the panel said.

Last month, the school notified the district that it was withdrawing its application for renewal, and the hearing was canceled, said district spokeswoman Amy R. Guerin. The school's principal did not return a call seeking comment last week.

—Catherine Gewertz

Donors Help Chicago Students Pay Tuition, Graduate With Class

Seven lucky seniors who attend the 685-student Gorden Tech High School, a Roman Catholic college-preparatory school in Chicago, will graduate on time, thanks to a helping hand from nearly a dozen community members.

The students, whose parents couldn't afford to pay outstanding tuition bills, were facing the prospect of having their diplomas held and being excluded from graduation ceremonies.

When the Chicago Sun-Times ran a story about senior Daniel Crespo, an honor-roll student whose parents, according to the newspaper, owed nearly $4,000 in tuition, community members responded, and one anonymous donor paid the debt in full.

The school accepted the remaining donations in behalf of six other students in need of assistance, ensuring that the entire class of 2003 could attend their May 28 graduation. The Rev. Joseph Glab, the school's president, said the school's $6,000 annual tuition covers only about 75 percent of costs. The remainder comes from donations from alumni and community members.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Seattle Teacher Resigns After Using Racial Epithet

A Seattle high school teacher has resigned after receiving a written reprimand for using a racial epithet in a discussion with a black student.

In a computer technology class at Cleveland High School last month, the student described a class assignment as "gay." After an extended debate with the student about whether the term was inappropriate, the teacher, Brian Emanuels, asked the student how he would feel if he were called a "nigger," according to Kevin A. Peck, the teacher's lawyer.

The boy's mother complained to the local chapter of the NAACP, which then called for the teacher to be fired. The teacher was placed on paid leave pending an investigation.

District officials determined on May 22 that the teacher, who was in his first year in the classroom after a career in private industry, did not mean to offend the student, and he was reinstated. The teacher instead chose to resign that day.

"He was trying to take advantage of a teachable moment in the classroom ... to illustrate to the student that it was an inappropriate use of language," said Lynn Steinberg, a district spokeswoman.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Colo. District Debates Policy On Alcohol-Related Charges

After suspending its superintendent for an arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol, a Colorado school board has found that its interim leader was convicted of similar charges.

Debbie Rose, the president of the school board in Pueblo School District 70, said her panel put Superintendent Stuart Yager on paid leave on May 19, after learning he had been arrested on alcohol- related charges.

The charges stem from an incident in which Mr. Yager was driving a pickup truck through a state park when two 11-year-old girls—one his daughter—fell off the back, according to the Pueblo County sheriff's department.

Less than a week after the suspension, the local news media reported that Mike Mauro, whom the board put in charge of during Mr. Yager's absence, had been convicted of driving while impaired by alcohol as recently as 2000.

The board plans to decide the fates of the two next week. Ms. Rose said district rules didn't require that Mr. Mauro inform the board of his past misdemeanor when he was made interim superintendent, but the panel now is considering such a policy. Neither he nor Mr. Yager could be reached for comment.

—Jeff Archer

Vol. 22, Issue 39, Page 4

Published in Print: June 4, 2003, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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