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Court Upholds Mississippi's Desegregation Settlement

After almost three decades of litigation, a court case over segregation in Mississippi's higher education system may have reached an end.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, affirmed a $503 million settlement in the case that will address segregation in the state's colleges and universities. The three-judge panel, which issued the ruling on Jan. 27, upheld a lower-court decision to approve the settlement and deny a motion for some of the plaintiffs to appeal the agreement separately.

"The settlement is educationally sound, and the results will be carefully monitored for compliance and accountability," David Potter, the state commissioner of higher education, said in a news release.

Although the federal government agreed to the settlement, it's unclear whether the decision will be appealed. Alvin O. Chambliss, a lawyer representing plaintiffs who opposed the settlement, could not be reached for comment last week.

Jake Ayers Sr. initiated the class action in 1975 on behalf of his son and other students. The plaintiffs argued that the state maintained a segregated higher education system and financed Mississippi's three historically black colleges at lower levels than those of its five predominantly white institutions.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Agreement Reached in Death Caused by Cafeteria Table

A cafeteria- table manufacturer has paid $10 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the mother of a 5-year-old Philadelphia boy who was killed when a folding table collapsed on him.

Jonathan Cozzolino suffered fatal head injuries in February 2001 when he was crushed by a 12-foot table that was folded in half and standing against the wall. He apparently leaned against the table while waiting in the lunch line in his elementary school's gym. ("Portable Cafeteria Table Topples, Killing Phila. Boy," Feb. 14, 2001.)

Thomas R. Kline, the mother's lawyer, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that his case showed that the table was dangerous and unstable, but that the manufacturer, the Chicago-based Midwest Folding Products, refused to change its design. He said the tables pose a safety hazard and may still be in use in many schools.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission had issued a warning in 1989 about folding tables that are commonly used in school cafeterias after several injuries and fatalities.

Jim Cornelius, the chief financial officer of Midwest Folding Products, said that the settlement had been negotiated by insurance representatives, and that his company would have no comment.

—Joetta L. Sack

Md. Schools Chief to Probe Baltimore District Finances

Maryland's superintendent of schools has told the state legislature she will form an "inquiry team" to investigate whether any school leaders benefited from the major financial problems crippling the Baltimore city schools over the last few years.

The 90,000-student Baltimore system has a $58 million deficit. Chief Executive Officer Bonnie Copeland has already fired 700 employees as part of a larger effort to address Baltimore's financial problems. ("Velvet Glove, Steel Hand," Jan. 14, 2004.)

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who testified before Maryland legislators on Jan. 22, said that even though she did not suspect improper behavior, the public had a right to know whether individuals had gained anything from the district's financial straits.

Ms. Grasmick did not provide details on who would make up the investigative team or when it would begin its work. A spokesman for the state department of education said last week that no details were available on the plan.

—John Gehring

Boys Choir of Harlem Leaders To Give Up School Positions

Two brothers who run the famed Boys Choir of Harlem have agreed to give up their positions in the wake of criticism that they did too little to protect an adolescent singer against sexual abuse by one of the group's counselors.

Under the terms of an agreement with the New York City education department—which supports the Choir Academy school attended by its singers in 4th through 12th grades—Walter J. Turnbull will resign from the post of chief executive officer by Feb. 17. He will continue to teach and conduct as founder and artistic director.

His brother, Horace Turnbull, will step down from his job as executive vice president effective Feb. 17, and will complete his fund-raising work by mid- April, the agreement said. He may serve as a consultant to the choir, but neither man will have any responsibility for the health or safety of students, under the agreement. Along with naming a new CEO, the choir will create a new post, dean of students, that will have authority over those areas.

Anthony Coles, a lawyer who represents the brothers, said they acknowledge that they erred by not being more aggressive in investigating allegations that Frank Jones Jr. had molested a young teenage boy. The brothers had questioned Mr. Jones, but accepted his word when he denied wrongdoing, Mr. Coles said. Mr. Jones was convicted of sexual molestation in 2002.

Jerry Russo, the press secretary to Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, said the agreement sought to preserve the opportunity for children to participate in a choir with a "remarkable history," while also sending "the clear message that every adult in the public school system will be held accountable for the safety and well- being of every child in our charge."

—Catherine Gewertz

Student Arrested in Class Files Claim of Excessive Force

A 15-year-old Maryland student has charged a school resource officer with using excessive force during a classroom arrest in December.

Lawyers for Marvan Ebrahimzadeh, a student at Glenelg High School in Howard County, argue that school administrators and a school police officer erred when they chose to arrest their client for refusing to obey a teacher when she asked Mr. Ebrahimzadeh to change seats during class on Dec. 10.

In twin complaints filed in late January with the Howard County police department and the Howard County board of education, the lawyers also allege that School Resource Officer Kelly Smith was unnecessarily rough with Mr. Ebrahimzadeh during the arrest.

The lawyers requested a meeting with school and police officials "to discuss the terms of a possible settlement."

A spokeswoman for the 47,000- student school district said the student was removed from class by force only after he ignored numerous requests to leave with the assistant principal.

The Howard County police moved the accused officer to another school in the district immediately after the incident, a police spokeswoman said.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

N.Y.C. Bus Companies Agree To Cut Idling Time by Schools

Four school bus companies have agreed to dramatically cut the time that buses idle in front of New York City schools, under an agreement announced last week by state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

By reducing pollution spewed from the buses, the agreement is aimed at combating asthma and other respiratory conditions and health problems.

An investigation by Mr. Spitzer's office found that the four bus fleets had repeatedly violated state and city idling laws, which limit the amount of time that buses can sit with their engines running when not in traffic, according to a press release.

Among other measures, the companies agreed to implement a policy that prohibits idling for more than one minute within one block of a school. Three of the four companies agreed to cooperate with the New York Power Authority, a state-owned power organization, to install diesel-exhaust filters on their buses to reduce harmful emissions.

—Ann Bradley


Bob Keeshan, who was known to young children and their parents as "Captain Kangaroo" for almost 30 years, died on Jan. 23 in Windsor, Vt. He was 76.

No cause of death was announced, but he had been known to have heart problems.

His popular television show, which premiered on CBS in 1955, featured such characters as Mr. Green Jeans, Mr. Moose, Grandfather Clock, Bunny Rabbit, and the Dancing Bear. The hourlong show ran six days a week.

After his show ended, he spent his time lecturing, writing books, and working on children's issues.

He felt that the government should have a stronger role in protecting educational programs for children and criticized TV's role in selling products to young people, not nurturing them.

Mr. Keeshan got his start in children's television in 1948 as Clarabell the clown on "The Howdy Doody Show."

From 1953 to 1958, he served on the school board in West Islip, N.Y.

—Linda Jacobson

Vol. 23, Issue 21, Page 4

Published in Print: February 4, 2004, as News in Brief
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