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NEW YORK

Police to take over school security. The New York City Board of Education will soon vote to put the Police Department in charge of school security, according to the Sept. 16 New York Times. Experts believe the plan would be the first of its kind.

The measure has undergone heated debate over the past five years. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has lobbied for the police takeover as a step toward improved school safety. The plan would shut a School Board security unit, which is being called the “F troop” in the wake of staff convictions. Critics of the plan say a police presence would give schools a prison atmosphere and could undermine principals’ authority in discipline matters. Former city schools Chancellor Ramon Cortines resigned in 1995 largely because of his “bitter feud” with Giuliani over the issue, according to the Times.

Rudy Crew, the current chancellor, opposed the plan initially but recently reached a compromise with the mayor: The Police Department will replace security guards on a one-for-one basis but not increase the security force. The measure, tentatively scheduled to take effect Nov. 1, would put 3,200 officers in 1,100 schools. Officers would not carry guns except at 128 schools already patrolled by police. Under the compromise, police, parents and school staff at each school would write up a safety plan.

How the measure would balance power between school officials and the Police Department remains unclear, according to the Times. For example, who decides whether a student should be arrested or suspended for a fistfight?

Some groups who initially opposed the measure support the compromise; others are withholding judgment until all the details are worked out, the paper reports.

Students interviewed by the Times expressed mixed feelings about the takeover: While safety might improve, they thought, many also feared police harassment. “With security guards, you could be friends,” said one high school senior. “With cops, there’s tension. We’re going to have to keep our distance.”

In Chicago, the school system is in charge of security, but uniformed police officers, working out of a special unit, are assigned to all high schools.

MASSACHUSETTS

Teaching programs face skills test. Teacher education programs in Massachusetts may face closure if too many of their graduates fail a basic skills test, the Boston Globe reports in its Sept. 16 edition. The Massachusetts Board of Education voted to draft a proposal that would shut down college teaching programs if, for two consecutive years, more than 20 percent of their graduating students fail a basic skills test. The test is mandatory for teacher certification in Massachusetts and covers reading, writing and knowledge of the subject the graduate intends to teach. (Illinois also administers both a basic skills test and a subject-area test.)

When the Massachusetts test was given last April, 59 percent of aspiring teachers failed; in July, 47 percent failed. Only 2 of 54 colleges with students tested on those dates met the proposed cutoff: Harvard University and Wellesley College. This year, a total of 13 students completed teaching programs at those two schools.

Education deans say their schools are being unjustly blamed for the high failure rate, and note that the test has not yet been independently validated, the Globe reports. If approved, the state board’s proposal would not take effect until 2000.

NATIONWIDE

Treatment of gay students rated. In a rating of how well 42 large school districts protect and support gay and lesbian students, Chicago and 16 other districts earned an ‘F.’

The report card released Sept. 10 by the New York-based Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) judged districts on six criteria, including whether they have a written policy specifically protecting students and staff from discrimination and harassment based on real or perceived sexual orientation, whether districts provide inservice training on issues affecting gay, lesbian and bisexual students, and whether the district has student groups that address homophobia. Chicago met none of these criteria.

In the Dade County (Miami, Fla.) public schools, one of eight districts that earned a perfect score, guidance counselors at 22 of 31 high schools offered gay and lesbian support groups last year, and students at five high schools started clubs, according to the Sept. 10 Miami Herald. Other districts receiving A’s are Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego and San Francisco.

“Our big issue is safety,” Edda Cimino, a GLSEN co-chair in South Florida told the Herald. “These students have a right to learn in a safe environment. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t learn.”

Glsen also provided the Herald with these national statistics: About 19 percent of gay and lesbian students are physically attacked because of their sexual orientation; 13 percent skip school at least once a month due to such attacks; 26 percent eventually drop out.

The report was endorsed by the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and the National Association of School Psychologists.

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INDIANAPOLIS, IND.

City wants blacks back. In February, a federal judge rejected a bid by the Indianapolis public schools to reclaim 5,500 black students who are currently bused to suburban schools under a 16-year-old court order, according to the March 12 issue of Education Week.

Judge S. Hugh Dillin ruled that an arrangement under which black students from the city attend school in six predominantly white townships should continue indefinitely. Indianapolis school officials are appealing Dillin’s ruling.

The receiving suburbs, which initially resisted Judge Dillin’s earlier orders to accept poor black students, are now fighting to keep them. “It’s extremely ironic,” says David R. Day, a lawyer for two of the townships. “But as the kids have gone to school together, people have gotten to know each other. When you treat someone as a neighbor, you can’t just say, ‘You’re no longer my neighbor.'”

City school officials say the economics of the system are unfair. They say the townships are paid an average of $2,400 more per transfer student than the state allows Indianapolis to spend on its own pupils.

“If you live on one side of the street, the most the school district can spend on you is $5,455, but if you live on the other side of the street, the amount spent on you will be anywhere from $7,781 to $9,517,” says Rodney Black, the district’s business administrator.

The state pays the townships $47 million to educate Indianapolis transfer students this year, including $3.5 million for transportation. The townships argue that the higher spending is needed to overcome the disadvantages faced by inner-city children. Their representatives, including Day, deny that money is their prime motivation in wanting to keep the transfer students.

OMAHA, NEB.

Random drug testing. Next fall, middle schools and high schools in Omaha’s District 66 will ask parents for permission to test their children for the use of marijuana and other drugs, according to the March 12 issue of Education Week. The district seems to be the first in the nation to approve such testing for all students.

NATIONAL

Health agency push for P.E. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control urges schools to require students to participate in daily physical activity in grades K-12, according to the March 19 issue of Education Week.

Illinois is in a minority of states that have a daily P.E. requirement. Locally, the Chicago School Reform Board is seeking permission from the state to drop the daily requirement for high school juniors and seniors, beginning in September 1999.

Construction-aid debate. Republicans in Congress question President Bill Clinton’s proposal to boost spending on school construction and repair, according to the March 19 issue of Education Week. Clinton’s plan would give $5 billion to pay up to half the interest on school construction bonds floated by local districts.

Republican legislators warn that federal labor laws that apply to federally financed construction projects could drive up costs in some districts and wipe out the value of the interest aid. They also dislike what they call federal interference in a local issue.

Funding gap study. Illinois does less than other states to lessen the disparity between wealthy districts and poor ones, according to a study released in March by the General Accounting Office. Illinois ranks 46th of the 50 states in such efforts.

The study also shows that in Illinois, the level of school funding is tightly linked to the wealth of the local community. Illinois ranks 8th among the states in the effect of local poverty or wealth on local education funding, according to the report, “School Finance: State Efforts to Reduce Funding Gaps Between Poor and Wealthy Districts.”

Teacher salaries. Illinois ranks 10th in the average salary paid to public school teachers in 1995-96, according to the National Education Association. The Illinois average was $40,919; the national average, $37,685. Connecticut was highest, at $50,254; South Dakota, lowest, at $26,346. Chicago’s average was $43,867.

POMONA COUNTY, CAL.

Pants OK. To settle a lawsuit, the Pomona Unified School District has agreed to suspend part of a dress code that required female teachers to wear skirts or dresses, according to an article in the March 12 issue of Education Week. The district has also agreed to pay $10,000 plus lawyers’ fees to Roxanne Pittman, the 5th-grade teacher who filed the suit 18 months ago.

“I couldn’t see a logical reason for the rule, and that added to how I felt about it,” says Ms. Pittman. The dress code, which dates back to 1979, also violates a 1994 California law guaranteeing women the right to wear pants in the workplace.

The dress code applied to three “fundamental” elementary schools, where female students and teachers were required to wear skirts and dresses, while male teachers had to wear dress shirts, slacks and ties. The student dress code stands.

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SAN DIEGO

Parent’s union. Galvanized by a five-day teacher strike in February, a coalition of parent groups wants to form a parents’ “union” that would play a key role in teacher contract negotiations, according to the Mar. 13 issue of Education Week.

“Parents are not at the table in key areas of decision making,” said Walter Kudumu, director of the Center for Parent Involvement in Education, whose five children attended city schools. “There is a strong sense that parents districtwide are disenfranchised.”

Kudumu said that 13 of the 20 items under dispute during the strike were items that parents “had a right and a responsibility to speak on.”

What reportedly alarmed parents most was the union’s bid to win contract language guaranteeing them half the seats on governance teams at each of the district’s 160 schools. The union lost on that issue; individual schools will continue to determine the makeup of their own teams.

Though the union lost, parent groups note that the tentative agreement gives a committee that has no parent members the power to referee disagreements over shared decision making. Also, half the seats on a new task force that will study shared decision making and make recommendations on improvements must be reserved for union members.

“When they put in the contract certain agendas that affect parents and we didn’t sit at the table, they have put up a barrier against our inherent right to participate,” said Judith R. Williams, president of the San Diego Unified Council of PTAs. “They have devalued our voice, and they are saying we don’t count.”

President William Crane of the San Diego Teachers Association counters, “We are not interested in abdicating the contract authority to a group of parents, many of whom owe no allegiance to anybody but themselves. Most no longer have kids in schools. These are professional-parent people.”

Susie Lange, spokeswoman for the California Department of Education, told Education Week that giving parents a seat at the bargaining table “is an issue that needs a lot of public discussion. But they could have some kind of review, nearing the end of a contract period, so that the board is aware of what the community wants.”

Although School Board members maintain that they sought to preserve parents’ rights by fighting the union’s bid for more power on the governance teams, parent groups said they lost confidence in the board during the strike.

Still, for many parents, poor academic performance of many African-American and Hispanic students is the core issue. “The bottom line is parents want accountability, academically and fiscally,” said Les Pierres Streater, a parent activist running for a board seat.

A month after the strike ended, the union and board were still haggling over details of the new contract. However, teachers won raises totaling 14.7 percent over three years. Teachers at the top of the pay scale will get additional annual bonuses—$1,500 for teachers with 19 to 22 years of experience and $3,000 for those with 23 years of service or more. Average San Diego teachers’ pay is $40,500.

NEW YORK STATE

Suspensions by teachers. The New York State United Teachers and Republican Gov. George Pataki have battled each other over most educational issues, but they have joined forces to give teachers the authority to suspend students, according to the Mar. 13 Education Week.

The New York State Senate has passed a bill granting that authority, by a 55-to-3 vote; the State Assembly is expected to take a vote on a similar version soon. Meanwhile, a poll conducted for the teachers union last year found that 70 percent of New York voters support such a measure.

Critics, however, say that teachers will act in the heat of the moment and may suspend minority and special education students without sufficient cause. Louis Grumet, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, likens the plan to giving crime witnesses the right to prosecute suspects and hand down sentences. “We have to make certain that the person making the accusations is not also the judge,” Grumet said.

Under Pataki’s proposal, principals would have the authority to overturn suspensions they deem unwarranted.

NEW YORK CITY

No more testing. A long-standing practice of testing all students with Hispanic surnames for English proficiency is being scrapped in New York City, according to the Mar. 6 issue of Education Week.

The School Board voted unanimously to drop the practice—widely criticized by educators and Hispanic parents—for a year while the system tries to devise an alternative screening process. Critics pointed out that children from other ethnic groups were not automatically tested and that the practice had led to some students being placed in bilingual classes unnecessarily.

Ironically, the practice stemmed from a 1974 lawsuit by an Hispanic advocacy group and was intended as a safeguard to keep students in need of bilingual services from going unidentified.