News in Brief: A National Roundup

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CDC Reports 93 Deaths Of Children From Flu

Influenza has killed 93 children in the United States since October, according to the latest update from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That figure, released Jan. 9, is more than double the 42 flu-related deaths reported in late December by the Atlanta-based agency.("Flu Outbreaks Force Schools to Adjust Plans," Jan. 7, 2004).

Of the 93 children, ranging in age from 4 weeks to 17 years, 35 had underlying, chronic medical conditions such as asthma, mental retardation, or heart disease. Pneumonia was a complication in at least 25 of the deaths.

Of the 45 children whose vaccination status was known, the CDC reports that 33 had not received a flu shot, and six children had received only one of the recommended two doses of flu vaccine.

Though additional studies are pending, the CDC could not compare this year's mortality rate with that of previous flu seasons because the agency has not traditionally collected data on influenza- related deaths among children.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

New York City Schools' Overhaul Clears U.S. Justice Department

New York City's plan to replace its 32 local elected school boards with parent councils has been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The department must review any proposed change in law that could affect minority voting rights in certain regions of the city.

Four aspects of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's reorganization plan for the 1.1 million-student district had to be submitted to the department for review. The latest approval notification, faxed to district officials on Dec. 30, was the last of the four.

In 2002, the Justice Department approved plans to reconstitute the citywide board of education, bar community school boards from appointing local superintendents, and give the mayor authority to hire the districtwide schools chancellor.

The changes flow from a state law passed in 2002 giving the mayor expanded control over a restructured school system. A section of that law eliminated the local school boards. The new panels will be composed of nine parents chosen by each school's PTA officers, and two community members chosen by the borough president.

Mayor Bloomberg greeted the Justice Department's approval as "a great victory" in his bid to increase parent involvement in schools. But critics contend the change would decrease minority influence because many schools with large minority and low-income populations have nonexistent or inactive PTAs, and because the leadership of parent-teacher groups is often held by white parents.

—Catherine Gewertz

Boston Public Schools Stand By Residency Rule

Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant remains committed to the Boston public schools' residency requirements, despite a recent court ruling that forced the district to readmit to Boston Latin School two students who live part time in the suburbs.

The families of the two 7th graders sued the district Dec. 12, more than a week after the students were discharged from Boston Latin.

Administrators at the prestigious, 2,400-student school found that the students lived during the week in apartments in Boston, but lived at their families' homes in the suburbs on weekends.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Nonnie S. Burnes issued a temporary injunction on Dec. 30 allowing the students to return to class while the case is being resolved.

Jonathan Palumbo, a spokesman for the district, said the superintendent might appeal the ruling.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 17, the Boston school board unanimously approved a 10-point plan to strengthen efforts to identify students who falsify their city residency and dismiss them from the district's three exam schools, which include Boston Latin. The plan calls for the 60,000-student district to hire an investigative agency to inquire into students' residency claims.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Principal of S.C. High School Resigns After Outcry Over Raid

George McCrackin, the high school principal who permitted police from Goose Creek, S.C., to conduct an early-morning drug raid with guns drawn at Stratford High School, has resigned.

The drug sweep, which was recorded on a widely broadcast videotape, outraged civil rights advocates and others and prompted two lawsuits. ("Drug Sweep Sparks Lawsuits, Investigations," Jan. 7, 2004).

In announcing the resignation last week, district officials said that the 20-year veteran principal had stepped down voluntarily because of intense professional and personal disruption.

"The growing tension that centered on his involvement overshadowed the learning environment," said Pam Bailey, a spokeswoman for the 26,500-student Berkeley County school district.

Mildred Brevard, a former assistant principal for the 2,700-student school, has been named the interim principal.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Calif. District Settles Lawsuit Alleging Harassment of Students

A California school district has settled a federal lawsuit brought by six former middle and high school students who alleged that administrators had failed to protect them from anti-gay abuse.

The Morgan Hill Unified School District agreed as part of the settlement to provide employees and students with annual training sessions on how to prevent harassment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The 5-year-old case was appealed by the district to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which held last year that schools must take steps to eliminate harassment when they learn that lesbian, gay, and bisexual students are being abused at school.

The plaintiffs were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, among other organizations.

The district said in a statement that it believes it has "no liability in this matter" and settled to avoid the cost and uncertainty of a trial.

—Ann Bradley

Pediatricians' Group Urges End To Sale of Soft Drinks in Schools

The American Academy of Pediatrics has joined the growing list of organizations that are urging an end to the sale of sugary drinks in schools.

In a policy released Jan. 5, the doctors' group points out that sweetened drinks are the primary source of added sugar in children's daily diets, and that such consumption of carbonated beverages has been associated with an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese, the most common medical condition among U.S. children.

Between 56 percent and 85 percent of school-age children consume at least one soft drink a day, the group said, adding that "with soft drinks and fruit drinks being sold in vending machines, in school stores, and at school sporting events, their availability is ubiquitous."

The health organization's policy recommends that pediatricians work to eliminate sweetened soft drinks in schools and work for the creation of school nutrition advisory councils.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Columbus-Area District Reopens After Buses Hit by Gunfire

A school district in suburban Columbus, Ohio, had a smooth reopening last week—including normal attendance and bus ridership—after an extended winter break because of recent shootings along Interstate 270, two of which involved South-Western City School District buses.

According to the Franklin County sheriff's office, seven of 18 shootings along the highway have been linked to the gun that killed a woman on Nov. 25. She was riding in a car traveling on I- 270, the Columbus beltway that runs through the school district.

There have been no other reported deaths or injuries from the shootings.

Two buses from the 20,000-student district were dented by bullets on Dec. 17, although the shootings have not been formally linked to the other incidents.

One bus was carrying no students. The second bus may have been carrying two students, although that has not yet been determined, authorities said.

Superintendent Kirk Hamilton canceled school on Dec. 18 and 19.

Jeffrey B. Warner, the district's communications manager, said buses that would normally travel on the section of I-270 where most of the shootings have occurred have been rerouted since Dec. 1.

That decision, however, is under review because, thanks to stepped-up security, the interstate is now "probably the safest highway in the country," he said.

—Catherine A. Carroll

Death: Mary "Lois" Tinson

Mary "Lois" Tinson, a former president of the California Teachers Association, died Dec. 28 in Los Angeles after a long illness. She was 68.

During her tenure heading the affiliate of the National Education Association, from 1995 to 1999, Ms. Tinson led its efforts to secure passage of the state's class-size-reduction law. She also led the association's successful fight to defeat Proposition 226, a 1998 ballot initiative that would have required unions to obtain members' written permission before using their dues for political purposes.

Ms. Tinson served as the secretary-treasurer of the union from 1991 to 1995 and was a reading and English teacher at North Park High School in the Baldwin Park Unified School District.

—Ann Bradley

Vol. 23, Issue 18, Page 4

Published in Print: January 14, 2004, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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