05/1999 State Education Roundup
Single-Sex Classes Prompt ACLU Probe
When the principal of Denver's Mitchell Elementary School last fall suggested assigning the 170 fourth- and fifth-grade boys and girls to separate classrooms, parents and teachers agreed that doing so could help students focus more on learning than on each other. Disciplinary problems are down 50 percent from a year ago and teachers see faster progress in reading. Although no parents have complained, the experiment has come to the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which is concerned that the separation may violate constitutional protections for either gender.
"It's an issue of great public importance," claimed state ACLU director Mark Silverstein, saying he was worried about the risk of the experiment "reinforcing gender stereotypes." Principal Lynn Spampinato has refused to let ACLU researchers observe the classes.
When other districts around the country opened single-gender schools, they were sued for sex discrimination. California finessed that problem by opening separate single-gender schools for both girls and boys.
Rocky Mountain News
March 26, 1999
Tax Break for Private Schools
A new state law allows private schools to save money on school building costs with the same tool that public school districts use: tax-exempt bonds.
Last year, the state legislature approved a bill, sponsored by Jacksonville Representative Steve Wise, that gives private preparatory schools access to tax-free industrial revenue bonds. This year, the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission received bond applications for $8 million from the Bolles School and for $750,000 from the San Jose Episcopal Day School.
Although the city is responsible for deciding whether an applicant is eligible or not, and for issuing the bonds, the city does not back the bonds. The bonds are sold to private investors, who are not required to pay federal tax on the interest, and they are paid off through school revenues over a period of years. Bolles President Harry deMontmollin estimated the bonds would save his school "hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Wise’s bill attracted little attention when it went through the legislature, with opposition primarily from teacher unions who, said deMontmollin, "don't want anything that benefits private education." Private colleges in Florida have had access to such bonds for years, and 35 other state allow them.
March 25, 1999
New Rules Compound Teacher Shortages
A new licensing law designed to improve teaching in Hawaii's schools is aggravating teacher shortages in rural locations, such as Molokai and Lanai, and in such subject areas as mathematics, science, special education, and vocational education.
The new law requires that all teachers are either licensed or "actively pursuing" licensing. Although the law has been in effect for two years, this is the first time the Hawaii Department of Education has not rehired teachers who failed to meet the law's requirements.
Licenses are renewable every five years and are issued to teachers who are certified, have completed an approved teacher preparation program, and have passed the PRAXIS national teacher competency examination. Of 12,000 public school teachers in Hawaii, an estimated 500 were currently actively pursuing licenses, but another 165 were not, and so were not rehired. Where the supply of teachers with specific subject skills or in certain geographic areas is insufficient to meet demand, schools often hire noncertified long-term substitutes, who are not required to get a license.
March 23, 1999
500 Cameras for School Security
As a security measure considered less intrusive than metal detectors, the Evanston Township High School District 202 school board has approved the installation of more than 500 security cameras at the district's huge high school building.
The cameras, which will not replace the school's 19 security guards, will monitor the high school's almost three miles of corridors, 44 stairwells, and four cafeterias. In addition, cameras will be mounted at 81 exterior doors and outside the building at several pickup spots.
Calling them "a proactive measure to create a strong deterrent to unacceptable behavior," Superintendent Allan Alson told the Chicago Tribune that the cameras were intended for review purposes after a reported incident, with only occasional real-time viewing.
March 9, 1999
Parochial School Bus Subsidy Upheld
A Jefferson County transportation subsidy for non-public school students was upheld in a 4-3 decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court on March 25. Although a previous subsidy had been ruled unconstitutional in 1995, the court ruled that a transportation subsidy resolution crafted by the Jefferson Fiscal Court had corrected those flaws and that the existing subsidy was constitutional. The case was brought by a county resident and taxpayer against the fiscal court and the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Writing for the majority, Justice Bill Grave said that the resolution "works toward the safety and welfare of all elementary school children of Jefferson County" by subsidizing bus transportation for non-public school students "who would not otherwise have much protection."
Instead of making direct payments to the school--which would constitute direct aid to a sectarian institution--the fiscal court made payments to bus companies on contract to the archdiocese. The subsidy covers about 65 percent of the cost of transporting non-public elementary schoolchildren.
March 26, 1999
Parents Call for Phonics
Although state education officials and teacher union representatives did not support their position, parents and local education officials in Washoe County spoke in favor of an Assembly bill to require the use of phonics for reading instruction in Nevada's public schools.
The bill would force school districts to use only "explicit systematic phonics" for reading instruction in kindergarten through second grade. Washoe County School Board member Lezlie Porter said her district's programs "would not pass muster," and Reno resident Janine Hansen said that most dropouts "simply don't know how to read."
But Nevada State Education Association President Elaine Lancaster opposed mandated phonics instruction, arguing that teachers should be allowed to use a variety of ways to teach children to read. Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Mary Peterson agreed, saying that teachers should not have to choose either phonics or "whole language."
Las Vegas Sun
March 30, 1999
Court Upholds Pension Revocation
A federal appeals court panel has reaffirmed the revocation of state pensions of 24 union officials, including American Federation of Teachers Vice President Edward J. McElroy Jr. and Harvey Press, president of National Education Association-Rhode Island. The panel ruled that the high-ranking officials "were never public employees--at least in the capacity for which state pensions were sought."
Teachers who become union officials are allowed to maintain their school district benefits while conducting union business, but abuses can occur. For example, representatives of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers in Minnesota are calling for the resignation of President Richard Cherveny after district officials found that he had spent fewer than nine days in school since last September. The St. Paul contract allows the union president to spend half of his time on union business.
March 29, 1999
Parents Will Help Discipline Teacher
Should parents be involved in deciding whether Utah educators should lose their teaching licenses if accused of unprofessional conduct? Until now, the answer has been no, and the 11-member Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission, which makes such decisions, has been made up of six classroom teachers and five other education employees.
But Utah lawmakers changed the law this year and replaced two of the non-classroom educators with parents. The change makes the composition of the teacher licensing commission parallel to that of the disciplinary commissions for doctors and lawyers.
The change could mean stiffer penalties for unethical teachers whose cases are brought before the commission. Of Utah's 22,000 teachers, only 27 came before the commission in 1998. The commission revoked licenses in five of those cases and suspended the license in one other. Revocations last at least five years, and suspensions one year.
Salt Lake Tribune
April 2, 1999
Student Loses Free Public Education
Although most 14-year-olds have the right to a free public education, Casey Lyn Jones doesn't. According to Utah state law, she lost that right when she was expelled from Ogden High School for a year after allegedly attacking one of her teachers last December. Since then, the school district has provided her only with information on local social services, such as anger management. The teacher has filed a suit against Jones and she has been charged with aggravated assault.
Jones' parents now are responsible for paying for her education. However, if Jones violates the terms of her arraignment and sets foot on any Ogden City School District property, she could go to juvenile detention, where she would receive free instruction and classes towards a high school diploma.
Salt Lake Tribune
March 30, 1999
Board Drops Tuition Plan
The school board that initiated an important school choice lawsuit challenging the State of Vermont's exclusion of religious schools from its tuitioning program is dropping its plan to pay tuition for students who attend religious schools. Two of three members of the Chittenden Town School District school board were replaced in the March elections, and the new board members oppose tuitioning payments to religious schools.
The case remains before the Vermont Supreme Court, which received it after a Rutland Superior Court ruled against the plan in 1997. If the state high court rules against the plan, several other parties could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Chittenden has no high school but pays for 108 of its students to attend other public schools, mostly in adjoining communities. The town does not pay for another nine of its students to attend the Catholic Mount St. Joseph Academy in nearby Rutland. When the 1996 Chittenden school board added religious schools to its program, the state Department of Education refused to support the plan on the grounds that assisting religious schools would be a violation of the First Amendment. Lawyers representing the Chittenden district filed suit against the state, arguing that the First Amendment does not forbid tuition assistance to parents who wish to send their children to a religious school.
March 18, 1999