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Back On The Trail

Texas high school teacher Victor Morales may have lost his highly publicized 1996 bid for the U.S. Senate but not his dream to serve in Congress. In March, Morales captured 80.5 percent of the votes in the Democratic primary for Texas' 5th Congressional District, defeating fellow high school teacher William Foster III of Houston. Morales, a 48-year-old government teacher from Poteet High School near Dallas, drew national attention two years ago by campaigning across the state in his white pickup truck in a bid to unseat incumbent Senator Phil Gramm, a Republican [see "The Candidate," September 1996]. Although he lost that race, Morales picked up an impressive 2.4 million votes after spending only $950,000; Gramm received 3 million votes but spent more than six times as much as Morales. After the election, Morales returned to teaching. But the demands of his classroom and the new campaign proved to be more than he could handle, so he gave up his teaching post early in this school year. "I love teaching," he says. "But I couldn't do the job I wanted to." Now Morales is focused full time on beating first-term Republican incumbent Pete Sessions.

The Final Lesson

Dennis Frederick, the Minnesota teacher who gained national attention when he returned to the classroom after learning he had terminal cancer, died March 23. He was 38. Frederick began teaching 3rd grade at Pleasantville Elementary School in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, in 1991. After chemotherapy proved unsuccessful in treating his colon cancer, doctors told him last May that he would probably live only another six months. Despite the news, he decided to return to the classroom in the fall. Word of his courage spread, and he was featured on national television news shows and in this magazine [see "A Lesson Before Dying," March]. Frederick managed to keep teaching until last November and even after that made frequent visits to the school.

Teen Smoking Up

Smoking rates among high school students have risen sharply during the 1990s, with the steepest increase among black teenagers, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its annual Youth Risk Behavior Study measures cigarette, smokeless tobacco, and cigar use among more than 16,000 students in grades 9 though 12. The percentage who reported smoking cigarettes in the previous month has climbed by one-third, from 27 percent in 1991 to 36 percent last year. By comparison, the percentage of black students who reported using cigarettes in the past month nearly doubled, from 12 percent in 1991 to 22 percent last year. CDC researchers did not address the reasons for the hike in smoking among the various groups.

A Sour Note

A federal district court judge in Cleveland has ordered the Westlake school district to readmit a student who was suspended for creating a World Wide Web page critical of his school's band director. In his temporary restraining order, Judge John Manos also ordered school officials not to restrict the speech of the boy, 16-year-old Sean O'Brien, who is a member of the Westlake High School concert band. The district suspended Sean for 10 days in March for posting messages on the Internet from his home that were critical of the teacher. He served eight days of the suspension before the judge's order. The American Civil Liberties Union in New York City says this is the first court order to emerge from a number of pending cases involving students' speech rights on the Internet.

Bans Upheld

The California Supreme Court has ruled that the Boy Scouts of America can exclude homosexuals, agnostics, and atheists as members. Two unanimous decisions from the seven-member panel stemmed from separate cases: one filed by Tim Curran, a former Eagle Scout rejected as an adult member when it was discovered that he is gay, and the other by twin brothers who refused to say the word "God" when taking the Boy Scout oath. In the March rulings, the court determined that the state's civil rights act did not apply to the Boy Scouts because it is not a business establishment but a private group, free to set its own membership policies. Earlier in March, the New Jersey Court of Appeals ruled that the Boy Scouts' expulsion of a gay member violated state law.

Pimping At School

A 7th grader in Reston, Virginia, was convicted in April of attempted pandering after trying to arrange sexual exchanges between boys and girls at his middle school. The 13-year-old had collected $80 from six girls at Langston Hughes Middle School who thought they were joining a club. He then told several boys that he could arrange sexual encounters with the girls, according to a Fairfax county prosecutor. Before any liaisons could be arranged, however, the student confessed. "He said he was running a prostitution ring," said Kitty Porterfield, a spokeswoman for the 147,000-student Fairfax County district. She said the boy called himself a "pimp" and the six girls "my 'ho's." At press time, the boy had not yet been sentenced.

Web Links Cut

Minneapolis school officials have disconnected links from the district's official World Wide Web site to the personal pages of district employees. The district acted after a local newspaper reporter found discussions of Biblical prophecy and beer drinking on several of the personal Web pages. Only about 10 out of some 800 employees have such pages. They pay the district $140 per year for access to the Internet from home, says Jerry Dalluge, district manager of information services. The district does not monitor the personal sites but has drafted guidelines—not yet official—stating that the content on the sites must be "appropriate."

Dress Down

City and school officials in McMinnville, Oregon, have offered cash settlements to the families of 36 middle school girls who were subjected to a strip search after a locker-room theft in January. During a physical education class at Duniway Middle School, a girl reported that money, a compact disc player, jewelry, and other items had been taken from her locker. The vice principal and a police officer assigned to the school called in female police officers to search some three dozen girls. Among other things, they made the girls shake their bras and lower their underwear. The missing items were not found. The vice principal resigned following the incident, and the school police officer was reassigned. Although a local prosecutor determined in April that no criminal laws had been broken, 11 families have filed notices of their intent to sue. The city and district have offered to pay the families $5,000 each, plus legal fees, if they agree not to file suit.

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