News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Well-Being of Children Up Slightly, Report Finds

American children are slightly better off today than 30 years ago, thanks to the economic boom of the late 1990s, according to a new national study on child health and well-being.

Overall, child well-being steadily declined from 1981 to 1994 because of poor economic conditions, surges in drug use and crime, and greater numbers of single-parent households, according to the "Index of Child Well-Being," a report released last week in Washington by the Foundation for Child Development, a New York City philanthropy.

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The study shows that levels of child well-being started to rise above 1975 levels only in 1999, but that children today are safer and have stronger ties with their communities.

However, more children today are obese, live in poverty, and attempt suicide than 30 years ago, according to the index.

The index, which the foundation plans to update annually, examines seven broad categories to measure the general well-being of children: mortality; poverty; suicide rates; drug use; education-test scores; health-insurance coverage; and crimes committed by children.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Md. School Districts Increase Testing of Water for Lead

District administrators in the Maryland suburbs of Washington stepped up lead-testing efforts in schools last week after finding high levels of the metal in the drinking water of several schools.

As of March 17, excessive levels of lead had been found in water tests at seven schools in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, placing those districts on a growing list of school systems around the country struggling with similar water-quality problems. ("Schools on Alert Over Water Quality," March 17, 2004.)

The findings prompted the two districts to restrict water usage at all of their combined 388 schools.

In letters last week to parents and students, school officials announced that all sources of drinking water would be flushed for 15 minutes every four hours during the school day. The schools in both districts also taped over most classroom faucets and posted warning signs to identify sources of water not to be used for drinking.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Montana, Nebraska Authorities Foil Alleged Plots by Students

Two elementary-age boys in Montana have been arrested after hiding a loaded handgun at a school playground with the alleged intention of killing a 3rd grade classmate.

The boys, ages 7 and 8, are accused of bringing a knife to school on March 17 and hiding a loaded gun in the playground of Forsyth Elementary School, in the town of the same name, with the intention of killing a girl during recess because they were "tired of her picking on them," Forsyth Sheriff Tim Fulton said last week.

The arrests came on the heels of a near miss at a Nebraska school the same week.

Seventeen-year-old Josh Magee of Malcolm, Neb., was arrested on March 16 after police found him outside Malcolm High School with 20 bombs, a gun, and several rounds of ammunition in the trunk of his car, authorities said.

Local police and a state police bomb squad were called to the school after a staff member reported seeing the teenager pacing in the parking lot during classes, wearing a duster-style coat and drinking alcohol from a flask.

School officials had long been keeping an eye on the junior because of his open fascination with weapons and the 1999 Columbine school shootings, said Gene C. Neddenriep, the superintendent of the 450-student Malcolm schools. Mr. Magee has been charged with first-degree attempted murder.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Cleveland Teachers’ Union Elects New President

After running the Cleveland Teachers Union for 16 years, Richard DeColibus is retiring next month, and handing the leadership of the more than 5,000-member union over to Joanne DeMarco.

Ms. DeMarco, who teaches social studies at Collinwood High School and served as the first vice president of the organization, received more than 2,700 votes in this month’s election.

Mr. DeColibus, however, had endorsed Jan Brundage, the union’s bargaining-unit director and a teacher at Tremont Elementary School. Ms. Brundage came in second with 1,091 votes.

During his tenure, Mr. DeColibus was known for having an easy-going style and a good relationship with Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the chief executive officer of the 74,000-student district.

—Linda Jacobson

Georgia Teachers Penalized For Buying Bogus Degrees

Ten Georgia teachers have had their certification levels downgraded by the state’s Professional Standards Commission after the teacher-credentialing and ethics agency learned that they had purchased their master’s and doctoral degrees from an online university in Liberia that sells degrees.

Officials from the 130,000-student Gwinnett County school district in suburban Atlanta, where six of the teachers work, have already said that those teachers will have to repay the district for the pay raises they received after acquiring the degrees. They may also face sanctions from the standards commission’s ethics board.

The other four teachers work in the Cobb County, Atlanta, Clayton County, and Ben Hill County school districts.

The degrees were obtained from St. Regis University in Monrovia, which the state commission began investigating after a tip from a superintendent from another school district.

While the Gwinnett County district does not have authority over licensing and certification, officials issued a statement saying they "have been working with the Professional Standards Commission to address this issue."

—Linda Jacobson

Chicago Drops Math Scores As Factor in Promotion

The Chicago school district has eased some of the requirements of a policy against social promotion that was one of the toughest in the nation.

In a 5-0 vote March 24, the school board adopted new rules that eliminate the practice of retaining students on the basis of mathematics performance, shifting the focus instead to literacy.

While students still may be required to attend summer school or repeat a grade for poor reading performance, the new policy places a greater emphasis on ongoing assessment, early intervention, and intensive help for students falling behind.

Struggling students will participate in intensive reading-improvement programs that could have afterschool and summer components, the board’s policy says.

The new policy prohibits retaining students more than once in the same grade, and allows retention only once in kindergarten through 3rd grade, once in 4th through 6th grades, and once in grades 7 and 8.

—Catherine Gewertz

Calif. District Loses Bank Loan Over Refusal to Change Policy

The Bank of America has denied the Westminster school district in Orange County, Calif., a $16 million loan because its school board has refused to change a district anti-discrimination policy to comply with state law.

Three members of the five-person board say they oppose the policy change because it would mean the inclusion of both "sex" and "gender" as grounds for discrimination complaints. Such wording has morally troubling implications concerning sexual identity, they say. ("Calif. Board Splits Over Gender Identification," March 24, 2004.)

Trish Montgomery, the spokeswoman for the 10,000-student district, said last week that Bank of America denied the loan because it anticipated the district could lose state and federal funds for not being in compliance with state law—and thus considered the district a credit risk.

Members of the school board have at least until April 12 to change their minds before the Westminster schools would suffer any consequences from the state.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Whites Projected to Fall To Half of Population by 2050

The nation’s Hispanic and Asian populations are expected to triple over the next 50 years, according to projections released by the U.S. Census Bureau, while non- Hispanic whites will make up only about half the total population by 2050.

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Look up more data on minority populations, from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The bureau projected this month that the country’s total population would increase from 282.1 million in 2000 to 419.9 million in 2050.

Non-Hispanic whites made up 69.4 percent of the population in 2000, but are expected to decline to 50.1 percent of the total. The number of people of Hispanic origin, who can be of any race, is projected to grow from 35.6 million in 2000 to 102.6 million in 2050, or an increase of 188 percent. Their overall share of the population would increase to 24.4 percent.

—Ann Bradley

Vol. 23, Issue 29, Page 4

Published in Print: March 31, 2004, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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