News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Court Takes Broad View Of Ohio Abuse Statute

School boards in Ohio can be held liable when they fail to report alleged sexual abuse of a student by a teacher and the educator later abuses another student, the state supreme court ruled last week.

In the 5-2 ruling, Justice Alice Robie Resnick rejected the argument that the state’s mandatory-reporting law—which requires certain professionals, including teachers, to report suspected abuse of children—was intended to protect only a student in a particular incident of abuse, not to prevent potential future abuse.

"When [school officials and school authorities] are informed that one of their schoolchildren has been sexually abused by one of their teachers, they should readily appreciate that all of their schoolchildren are in danger," the justice wrote in the June 3 majority opinion.

The Yates v. Mansfield Board of Education case involves Donald Coots, a former Mansfield Senior High School teacher who was convicted of sexual battery of a 15-year-old student in 2000. His victim’s parents sued the school board after learning that a previous sexual-abuse allegation made against Mr. Coots had not been reported to police.

That lawsuit will return to the local trial court.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Utah State School Board Names Education Chief

The Utah state board of education appointed the state’s first woman superintendent of education in more than a century last week.

Patti Harrington, the former associate state superintendent for student achievement and school success, took the chief’s job on June 1. Steven O. Laing had retired from the position in March for health reasons.

Ms. Harrington, 51, was chosen from an applicant pool of 17 candidates from five states, according to the Utah State Office of Education.

Before working at the Utah education agency, Ms. Harrington was the superintendent of the Provo, Utah, school district. She previously was the principal of Provo High School and was named Utah’s secondary school principal of the year in 1997.

—Michelle R. Davis

Oregon State Board Bars Tobacco on Campuses

The Oregon board of education has unanimously passed a rule barring smoking and other tobacco use on school campuses and in school vehicles at all times.

Smoking on school property has long been prohibited by most school administrators, but a recent survey by the state’s department of human services found that about 45 percent of Oregon school districts don’t have a written policy barring tobacco use at all times.

Students will also not be allowed to possess tobacco on school property when the new rule, adopted last month, takes effect in January 2006. The rule specifies that everyone—not just students—is barred from smoking or using tobacco on school property.

Another agency survey on adolescent health found that 15 percent of 21,000 8th and 11th graders reported having seen a school employee smoke at school in the past year.

—Rhea R. Borja

Virginia Governor Vetoes Home Schooling Measure

Gov. Mark R. Warner of Virginia has vetoed a bill that would have made it easier for parents with only a high school education to teach their children at home.

Under current Virginia law, parents who don’t have a college degree or teacher certification must meet one of several criteria in order to home school. They must either enroll their children in an approved correspondence course or seek approval of their curricula from the superintendent of the local school district. Parents can also seek a religious exemption to home school. ("Va. Plan Would Ease Standards for Home School Parents," May 5, 2004.)

In a May 21 statement, Mr. Warner, a Democrat, said: "This bill would effectively lower the criteria to home school, and thus retreat from the needed assurance of an adequate education for every child."

Mr. Warner had proposed an amendment to the home schooling bill that would have permitted parents with only a high school education to teach their children themselves if the parents achieved an acceptable score on a standardized test. The legislature rejected the amendment.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Court to Name Overseers In N.Y. Funding Case

A New York state judge is planning to appoint overseers to monitor and report on the state’s efforts to comply with a court order to pump more money into the New York City schools.

On May 26, State Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse, a trial-level judge, asked lawyers in the case to nominate candidates to be special masters, who would review the state’s plan to meet the 2003 court order, according to the New York City-based Campaign for Fiscal Equity. The group won the lawsuit seeking more funding for the city schools.

In the decision last year, the state’s highest court gave the state until July 30 of this year to finance New York City schools at levels high enough to ensure students there receive a "sound basic education" as guaranteed by the state constitution. The resolution of the case is likely to involve increased funding for other cities in the state as well.

—David J. Hoff

Vol. 23, Issue 39, Page 24

Published in Print: June 9, 2004, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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