Current Events: Roundup
A California judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a group of low-income parents who sought state-funded vouchers to send their children to private schools. The suit, organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice on behalf of 34 children from southcentral Los Angeles, alleged that the vouchers were necessary to remedy the inadequate educational opportunities available to them in the public schools. Judge Raymond Cardenas dismissed the suit on June 4, saying the remedy sought was beyond his authority. “The allocation of funds for the purposes of education is a legislative function,” the judge said. Lawyers for the children intend to appeal. A similar suit involving Chicago parents, also organized by the institute, was dismissed in March by an Illinois judge.
Mayor Coleman Young of Detroit has announced that the city will use $1 million confiscated from drug dealers during police raids to fund drug-education programs for local young people. The city plans to award grants ranging from $10,250 to $60,000 to train peer counselors, create youth-run media campaigns on the dangers of drug use, and develop drug-prevention workshops for at-risk youths. Detroit, the first city in the nation to employ such a strategy, plans to continue its practice of using a portion of drug-forfeiture funds to hire additional drug- enforcement officers.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has received a three-year, $750,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to support field testing of its new certification system for teachers. The grant will support the work of the board's field-test network, a group of 27 contractors and 112 school districts throughout the nation. The districts in the network, which was established in June 1992, employ 165,000 teachers. They are reviewing drafts of national board standards, creating models for professional development, and preparing to field test the board's proposed assessment packages.
A new study by the General Accounting Office has found that the number and prevalence of political appointees at the U.S. Education Department peaked in 1987, under Secretary of Education William Bennett, when 166 such employees made up 3.9 percent of the work force. At the end of 1991, the department had 137 political appointees, who represented 3 percent of employees. Like previous GAO studies, the report found that the department had a higher percentage of political workers than any other Cabinet agency. Meanwhile, the new secretary of education, Richard Riley, has set out to create an esprit de corps and instill a sense of purpose at what he has called a “demoralized” department. Signs posted on walls throughout the agency building proclaim: “Our mission is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation.”
The number of reported cases of child abuse and neglect in the United States jumped 8 percent between 1991 and 1992 and 50 percent since 1985, according to an annual survey by the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse. More than 2.9 million cases of abuse were reported in 1992, about 213,000 more than in 1991; that works out to 45 reports of abuse for every 1,000 children in the country. The survey's authors estimate that about 40 percent of all reports of abuse are substantiated following investigation. Thus, some 1.16 million children were confirmed victims of abuse or neglect in 1992, 10 percent more than the previous year. Nearly every state responding to the survey cited substance abuse as a major contributing factor in child abuse. For more information, contact the NCPCA, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 1600, Chicago, IL 60604-4357; (312) 663-3520.
The Michigan Supreme Court has reversed the convictions of an Ottawa County couple who had been found guilty of violating the state's compulsory education law by teaching their children at home without a certified teacher. Mark and Chris DeJonge, who teach their children at home because of their religious beliefs, maintained that the state's requirement that they use a certified teacher violates their rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In the 4-to-3 decision, the supreme court agreed and overturned the lower court opinion. The high court held that the state failed to show that the certification requirement is the least restrictive means of discharging its interest in the education of the defendants' children.
A high school teacher in Longview, Wash., was suspended for two weeks without pay this past spring for giving his students extra credit for buying condoms. The teacher, Larry Wagle, initiated the project after students in his 9th grade world history class read an article about teenagers who were too shy to buy condoms. The students, who were required to obtain their parents' permission to participate in the exercise, were told they had to buy the condoms from a store clerk of the opposite sex and to produce a witness and a receipt. John Binns, a lawyer for the district, said school officials felt the project was inappropriate, “totally unrelated” to the history curriculum, and a violation of state sex education guidelines. Wagle defended the project as a lesson in AIDS prevention. An independent hearing examiner upheld the district's decision to suspend Wagle but also praised the teacher for the project.
Enforcing The Law
The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Louisiana in May, charging that state officials have failed to meet federal mandates to remove lead contamination from water coolers in the public schools and day-care centers. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of three New Orleans students, contends that the state has failed to comply with the federal Lead Contamination and Control Act of 1988. It is the second legal attempt to enforce state compliance with the law; a federal judge last year ordered the state of Colorado to comply. The main source of lead in schools—water coolers with lead-lined tanks—should have been repaired or removed starting in 1990, according to a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “Unfortunately,” she says, “lawsuits are the necessary catalyst to get the government to do what it should do.”
A Plot To Kill
Seven 6th graders in Columbus, Ga., were arrested in June for allegedly plotting to kill their teacher because she made them behave in class. The Georgetown Elementary School students were taken into custody after another student reported the plot to a school counselor. Members of the group are said to have poured chemicals into their teacher's iced tea and grabbed at her ankles in an attempt to trip her on a staircase. One student allegedly brought a knife and a gun to school. The teacher was not injured. Marquette McKnight, a district spokeswoman, said the plot did not signify a school problem. “I hated my 5th grade teacher, too,” she said, “but I knew I couldn't kill her, or my parents would kill me.”
To help improve the quality of K-12 science education, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has unveiled a five-year, $5 million initiative to support partnerships between medical schools and local schools. The institute, one of the nation's largest private funders of biomedical research, plans to award grants ranging from $100,000 to $500,000 to a total of 15 to 20 medical schools, academic health centers, or independent research institutions that submit winning proposals. Selected institutions will pledge to provide area students and teachers with hands-on research experience, technical assistance with curriculum development, mentoring programs, and access to scientific equipment. Public or private schools interested in participating should encourage local biomedical institutions to apply. For more information, call institute program officer Kathi Hanna at (301) 2158875.
Education officials in Iowa have decided to drop a controversial plan to establish a set of educational outcomes that every public school in the state would have had to meet. State Director of Education William Lepley says the education department's yearlong effort to spell out such outcomes had met with too much controversy and too little support. Critics had challenged the proposed outcomes as vague, failing to emphasize the basics, and an attempt to impose “politically correct” values on the curriculum. Instead, Lepley says, the department plans to help school districts set their own outcomes.
Vol. 04, Issue 09, Pages 8-10