News in Brief: A National Roundup

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New Orleans Board Blocked From Firing Superintendent

Two school board members in New Orleans won a temporary restraining order from a federal judge last week to block what they argued was a secret meeting that could have led to the firing of the superintendent.

Jimmy Fahrenholtz and Una Anderson won the order after four people on the seven-member board began discussing the performance of Superintendent Anthony S. Amato on June 3. Under state law, any meeting to evaluate a superintendent’s performance must be an open meeting.

Mr. Amato was hired in February 2003 to turn around the 80,000-student system, which has been plagued by a financial-corruption scandal and years of low academic performance. While Mr. Amato has won praise from state leaders, some board members believe he has blamed the school board for micromanaging the district and impeding its progress.

Disgruntled board members also hinted that Mr. Amato was behind a bill, passed last week in the Louisiana legislature, that would give superintendents in failing school districts more power over financial and hiring decisions. The legislation has the support of Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who was expected to sign the bill.

Mr. Fahrenholtz and Ms. Anderson announced at a June 10 news conference that they had reached an agreement with board members and U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. to extend indefinitely the restraining order on a vote to fire Mr. Amato.

—John Gehring

Mass. School Trustees Charged With Failure to Report Abuse

A Massachusetts grand jury has charged the board of trustees of a New England college-preparatory school with failing to report alleged child abuse to the state.

The trustees of the 355-student Groton School, in Groton, Mass., were charged on June 7 with one count of failure to file a child-abuse report, according to a statement from the office of Middlesex County District Attorney Martha Coakley.

The parents of a former student at the school, Cannon "Zeke" Hawkins, had reported to school authorities in April 1999 that their son had told them he was sexually assaulted at the school by fellow students during the previous school year, the statement said.

Two years later, the parents filed a lawsuit against the school, saying that school officials had minimized the seriousness of the allegations. ("Lawsuit Says Students Preyed Upon Peers at a Leading Prep School," Sept. 12, 2001.)

An arraignment date for the trustees had not been set as of late last week.

"For five years," Groton School officials said in a statement, "the Middlesex district attorney has been investigating allegations, raised by a former student, of multiple incidents of sexual abuse of and by male students at Groton School back in 1996. Remarkably, the net outcome of five years of investigation is that the school is charged with failure to report one incident involving one student to the department of social services."

—Mary Ann Zehr

Houston Settles Lawsuit Filed By Whistleblower Administrator

A former assistant principal in Houston who claimed administrators at his high school had knowingly changed dropout data reported to the state has reached a $90,000 settlement with the Houston Independent School District.

Robert Kimball ignited a wave of press coverage and a state investigation after he accused administrators at Sharpstown High School of changing 2001-02 student data to show the school as having no dropouts. A subsequent state audit of middle and high schools in the 210,000-student district revealed dropout-data inaccuracies in other schools as well. ("Houston Case Offers Lesson on Dropouts," Sept. 24, 2003.)

Mr. Kimball sued the district in April, contending that he was removed from his job at Sharpstown High because he had spoken out. The district had transferred him to an administrative desk job, and he also worked for a time at two elementary schools.

Under the terms of the settlement, Mr. Kimball will resign from the district. Both parties agreed not to discuss details of the lawsuit or settlement, according to district officials.

—John Gehring

New Yorkers Invited to Donate Belongings to Help Schools

What would it be like if millions of New Yorkers brought stuff to Central Park for a massive yard sale?

The city will find out in October. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and school leaders have teamed up with publishing executives and television star Sarah Jessica Parker to publicize "Get Organized New York," a tag sale to benefit the city’s 1,200 public schools.

The sale, organized by leaders of Real Simple magazine and its publisher, Time Inc., is scheduled for Oct. 16 and 17. The money it raises will help improve school libraries and develop after-school sports programs, said Caroline Kennedy, who leads the district’s fund raising.

In a statement, Mr. Bloomberg said the event would be a great way for New Yorkers to support schools "in a fun and innovative way."

Donated items also will be sold at a benefit auction party on Oct. 13 and an "early bird" preview sale on Oct. 15. Corporations and celebrities have already begun donating items, officials said. Others may begin donating in September. Drop-off sites will be set up around the city, and neighborhood pickups will be offered as well.

—Catherine Gewertz

N.C. School Board Chairman Resigns Over Plagiarism

Keith Cook resigned as the chairman of the Orange County, N.C., school board last week after admitting that he had plagiarized most of his commencement address last month at Orange High School.

Mr. Cook, who has been on the board of the 6,500-student district for nearly 10 years and is running for re-election on July 20, drew from a 1998 speech by then-U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala. It included the top "deep thoughts" for living, based on a humorous interpretation of the blockbuster movie "Titanic."

Fellow board members expressed their disappointment with Mr. Cook in a written statement.

In his own statement at the board’s June 7 meeting, Mr. Cook apologized, saying he had lifted the material from the Internet because it was not attributed to anyone. The district’s code of conduct for students prohibits plagiarism or using the work of others without attribution.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Vol. 23, Issue 40, Page 4

Published in Print: June 16, 2004, as News in Brief: A National Roundup
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