News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Pa. 'Cyber Charter' Student Ineligible for Hoops Team

A student who is enrolled in a Pennsylvania "cyber charter" school does not have a constitutional right to play basketball at her local high school, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge James F. McClure Jr., in Williamsport, on Sept. 3 granted a motion by the Midd-West school district to dismiss claims by Megan Angstadt, 16, a student enrolled in the Western Pennsylvania Charter School in Midland, Pa.

The district said Ms. Angstadt, who was home-schooled in grades 3-8, could not practice, play, and compete in interscholastic basketball at Middleburg High School, after the first game of the season in the fall of 2001, when she was in 9th grade.

Merrill S. Arnold, the superintendent of the 2,700-student district in Middleburg, said Ms. Angstadt was initially allowed to play—and in fact was named team co-captain—but became ineligible because the district could not determine that she was completing the required number of instructional hours and getting the required grades to play sports.

Her complaint said the district's eligibility requirements were "unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious."

But the judge disagreed and said taking part in extracurricular activities is not a fundamental right. He found no merit in arguments that the district unconstitutionally interfered with Ms. Angstadt's ability to associate with the cyber charter school, a state-financed online school.

—Andrew Trotter

Miami-Dade Schools to End Officers' Housing on Campuses

The Miami- Dade County school district's police department is putting an end to a long- running program that allowed community police officers to live in mobile homes on school campuses.

Currently, 19 police officers from the sheriff's office, the county police force, and the state department of transportation live in mobile homes on district campuses. The program, which began in 1984, was intended to deter criminal activity on school grounds, said Maj. Claudia Milton, a spokeswoman for the school police department.

Since then, the 365,000-student district's police force has grown, she said. Now, the force employs 184 officers who monitor schools 24 hours a day.

In addition, Ms. Milton said, the schools are expanding in size, and the mobile homes need to be moved off school property to free the land for classroom trailers.

There is no deadline for the officers to leave the properties, Ms. Milton said. None of the officers taking part in the program could be reached for comment.

—Michelle Galley

Universities Teaming Up to Help K-12 Leaders on Disability Issues

The University of Vermont has received a $1 million gift to launch a national effort to help prepare school leaders to educate students with disabilities and those at risk of failing in school.

The gift, from an anonymous alumni couple and their families, will help establish the Institute for Leadership, Disability, and Students Placed at Risk, to be located at the university in Burlington. Teams of scholars from six additional universities will collaborate with institute faculty members over the next four years to develop instructional materials that professors can use in preparing K-12 administrators.

Materials to be produced include training programs, course modules on video or CD-ROM, and research briefs on the best practices to use with such precollegiate students.

Partners in the effort include the universities of Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, Oregon, and Utah, and Sam Houston State University.

—Ann Bradley

L.A. School Board Votes Against Serving Irradiated Foods

The Los Angeles board of education voted last week not to use irradiated meat in its school cafeterias.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this past spring that it had lifted the ban on irradiated ground meat for the National School Lunch Program. Whether to use food that has been irradiated—or bombarded with gamma rays, X-rays, or electrons to kill disease-causing microbes—will be up to individual school districts. ("Irradiation Choice for Lunches Now a District Matter," June 11, 2003.)

Some consumer groups and critics of irradiation have argued that the technique should not be used on food served to children without further study.

Julie Korenstein, a member of the school board for the 747,000-student Los Angeles Unified district, sponsored the motion to prohibit irradiated foods. She argued that the district needed to "err on the side of caution."

The measure was approved 5- 0, with two board members absent. Los Angeles is the third California district to ban irradiated foods.

—Ann Bradley

Calif. Parents Drop Lawsuit Challenging Gay-Themed Skits

A group of parents who sued a San Francisco-area school district for allowing the performance of skits that the parents criticized as "pro-gay" have dropped their legal challenge.

Administrators in the Novato Unified district have said that the play, "Cootie Shots: Theatrical Inoculations Against Bigotry," addressed diversity and tolerance on a wide scale to discourage bullying and name-calling.

A group of local parents who supported the district's diversity efforts and the theater company that performs the play, Fringe Benefits, had intervened in the case in July, along with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Pacific Justice Institute, a Citrus Heights, Calif.- based legal-advocacy group, filed the suit on behalf of parents in December 2001. The institute has said that the case concerned the rights of parents in the 7,500-student district just north of San Francisco. ("Calif. Parents File Suit on Gay-Themed Skits," March 6, 2002.)

The institute dropped the suit earlier this month. Both the plaintiffs and the ACLU are declaring victory in the case.

Brad W. Dacus, the institute's president, said the district and its school board have taken steps to ensure that parents will be notified if material about sexuality and sex is discussed.

But Julia Harumi Mass, a staff lawyer with the ACLU of Northern California, said the case shows that schools have the authority to make student attendance mandatory at diversity education programs that include teaching tolerance for lesbian and gay students.

—Karla Scoon Reid

St. Louis Students in Class Despite Calls for Boycott

In the face of calls for a boycott, the St. Louis public schools last week saw a slight increase over last school year in first-day student attendance.

Some community leaders had urged parents to keep their children home on opening day to protest the district's new leadership. Since June, the school system has been run by a team of corporate consultants from a New York City-based firm, Alvarez & Marsal, which specializes in turning around failing companies.

The school board hired the firm to carry out a yearlong overhaul of the 40,000- student district's operations. ("Private Managers Stir Up St. Louis Schools," Sept. 3, 2003.)

Countering the threatened boycott was an all-out effort by school and city leaders to raise first-day attendance this year. District officials estimate that 76 percent of students showed up for the 2003-04 opening day, compared with 74 percent last year.

—Jeff Archer

Three L.A. Students Injured In Gang-Related Shooting

Three students from a Los Angeles high school were injured last week in what police said was a gang-related shooting.

The drive-by shooting took place at a bus stop on Sept. 9, just after Taft High School had dismissed students for the day. The school is located in an affluent area in the San Fernando Valley.

Three men in a car exchanged gang slogans with a pedestrian on the sidewalk among a group of students, police said. One of the occupants of the car then fired three shots, injuring two boys, ages 15 and 16, and a girl, age 17. All three were expected to recover from their wounds, and police said all were innocent bystanders.

Hilda Ramirez, a spokeswoman for the 747,000-student Los Angeles Unified school system, said 400 of the 3,400 students at Taft were absent from school the day after the shooting, compared with 250 the previous day. The district made extra counselors available.

—Ann Bradley

Des Moines School Board Vote Seen as Mandate for Change

Des Moines voters ousted their school board president last week and elected only the third African-American to serve on the Iowa district's board in 30 years.

Marc Ward, a two-term incumbent, lost his bid for re-election Sept. 8. Another incumbent, Laura Sands, did not run. The two board members will be replaced by Connie Boesen and Ako Abdul-Samad, who is African-American.

Ms. Boesen was pivotal in organizing the local-option sales-tax vote in 1999 that is expected to generate up $320 million for the district over 10 years. Mr. Abdul-Samad is a Muslim imam who runs a local outreach organization for youths and families in the city.

Observers believe that his election could signal the black community's heightened concerns about low achievement among minority students.

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon has included among his goals closing the achievement gap between students of various races and ethnicities and reducing the suspension rate of minority students.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Vol. 23, Issue 3, Page 4

Published in Print: September 17, 2003, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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