News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Atlanta School Board Suspends One of Its Own

The Atlanta school board has suspended one of its members following a recommendation from its new ethics commission.

Jean Dodd was suspended Aug. 11 for 90 days, fined $2,500, prohibited from conducting business as a board member during that time, and barred from attending any board functions or Atlanta public school system events.

She was accused of interfering in the investigation of a complaint filed against the 53,000-student school system by a former employee.

Ronald Freeman, Ms. Dodd's lawyer, said the board member will appeal the commission's ruling. Ms. Dodd, who has represented west Atlanta since 1994 and spent 30 years as a teacher in the city, has filed a formal objection to the commission's report and disputes that the board and the commission have the authority to discipline her, he said.

The ethics commission is an independent panel established under the Atlanta board of education's new charter, which went into effect July 1.

—Ann Bradley

Baltimore County School Board Found to Violate Meetings Rules

The Baltimore County, Md., school board violated the state's Open Meetings Act last spring when it met to consider a new contract for Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, a state panel has found.

In an Aug. 20 decision, the Open Meetings Compliance Board found that the board on May 29 violated the state's rules for convening meetings, when members conducted a meeting about the superintendent without providing public notice and keeping minutes.

The board investigated following complaints from two Maryland newspapers about the meeting.

School board members thought they were "engaged in executive function" during the discussions, the panel's decision notes, and thus not subject to the state's Open Meetings Act. But the panel disagreed, ruling that although the board can discuss a new contract for the superintendent in a closed meeting, it had failed to comply with the law's procedural requirements.

In a statement, the 109,000-student district noted that it had instituted procedures for properly closing meetings to discuss Mr. Hairston's contract "even before receiving this advisory opinion."

—Ann Bradley

Texas Superintendent Convicted Of Public-Information Violation

A Texas schools superintendent has been convicted of violating the state's Public Information Act.

A Blanco County jury last month found Jack Patton, the superintendent of the Llano Independent School District, guilty of a criminal misdemeanor for refusing to disclose information on how he and school board members were spending district money.

A county commissioner, the Llano Buzz newspaper, and local residents sought information on spending in the summer and fall of 2002, according to the Texas attorney general's office.

Judge Murray Jordan fined Mr. Patton $1,000 and gave him six months' probation. He has been on leave from his position with the 1,900- student district since February and could not be reached for comment.

Greg Abbott, Texas' attorney general, said in a statement that the case was the state's first known criminal conviction of a public official for violating the Public Information Act.

—Ann Bradley

Tenn. Principal Smashes Panes In Bid to Get New Windows

A principal who admitted smashing more than four dozen window panes in an aging Nashville, Tenn., elementary school in the hope of having them replaced will pay more than $800 to repair the damage.

Dianne P. Gilbert, who has served for eight years as principal of Caldwell Early Childhood Center, destroyed the windows last month in frustration over the aging conditions of the 88-pupil facility.

Over the years, many of the windows had been patched with other materials or poorly repaired after being vandalized or otherwise damaged, Ms. Gilbert told the Associated Press.

After the incident, Ms. Gilbert reported the damage to district officials and offered to pay to replace the windows, according to Craig Owensby, a district spokesman.

Director of Schools Pedro E. Garcia issued a verbal reprimand to the principal and decided that no legal or further administrative action would be taken against her.

Ms. Gilbert has received several offers from the community to help pay for the repairs, Mr. Owensby said. She has indicated the donations will go toward buying new school supplies.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Chicago After-School Program To Expand to More High Schools

A program that offers after-school apprenticeships to high school students in Chicago will expand this year.

Mayor Richard M. Daley announced last month that After School Matters— a partnership of the public schools and the city's park and library districts— will receive an additional $8 million. The money, from the city, school district, and corporate donors, will boost the program's budget to $17 million and allow 14,000 public high school students to participate this school year.

Students are paid stipends and must deliver "products" in their fields of study, including the arts, technology, and sports, said Nancy Neir Wachs, the executive director of After School Matters. Courses are taught in high schools, park buildings, and libraries by practitioners in the various fields.

The organization, whose board is chaired by Mayor Daley's wife, Maggie, plans to offer programs in 35 city high schools by the spring.

—Ann Bradley

Mo. District to Pay 8 Families For Strip-Searches of Girls

The Poplar Bluff, Mo., school district has agreed to pay $7,500 each to the families of eight junior high girls who were strip-searched at Poplar Bluff Junior High School.

The girls, who ranged in age from 12 to 15, were searched in January when $55 given by a student to a teacher for safekeeping disappeared. When the money didn't turn up in a search of book bags and gym clothes, 10 girls were taken into a school restroom and searched by the school nurse, according to a statement issued by the lawyers for the girls and the district.

The nurse searched under the girls' bras and inside the waistband of their panties, the statement said. None of the missing money was found, and none of the other students in the classroom was searched.

Mark A. Kennedy, the girls' lawyer, said the other two students have not yet settled their complaints against the 4,700-student district.

—Ann Bradley

Catholic-School Teachers In Philadelphia Go on Strike

After voting down a contract offered by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by a ratio of 3-to-1, more than 1,000 teachers in Roman Catholic high schools went on strike last week.

The lay teachers were expected to show up on Sept. 2 in the 22 archdiocesan high schools where they are employed, but instead they rejected the proposed contract and formed picket lines in front of the offices of the archdiocese.

Irene Tori, the executive secretary of the Association of Catholic Teachers Local 1776, the union representing the teachers, said members rejected the contract in part because it didn't provide sufficient salary increases and because it proposed changes in the teachers' medical plan that they deemed unacceptable.

Clement J. McGovern, the chief negotiator for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, said in a statement that he and the officials he represented were "greatly perplexed, disconcerted, and confused by the decision of our Catholic high school teachers to reject our contract offer."

Union leaders had told him that they would be recommending the contract proposal to the teachers, he said. The two sides were expecting to hold further negotiations on Sept. 5. Classes weren't set to start until Sept. 8.

Elsewhere, the National Education Association reported that public school teachers in Benton, Ill.; Springfield Township, Pa.; North Kingstown, R.I.; and Marysville, Wash., were on strike. About 200 bus drivers in eastern Long Island in New York also went on strike.

—Mary Ann Zehr & Michelle Galley

Vol. 23, Issue 2, Page 4

Published in Print: September 10, 2003, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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