Kindergartners and first-graders may not give religious gifts to their classmates, according to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an August 27 decision involving a New Jersey school. The ruling forbade a boy from distributing pencils with the message "Jesus loves the little children." The Charlottesville, Va.-based Rutherford Institute, representing Daniel Walz, plans to appeal the ruling. The institute is also appealing a June decision by the same court upholding the suspension of a New Jersey kindergarten boy following a playground cops-and-robbers game in which he used his fingers as a make-believe gun.
A Florida teachers union boss is headed to prison for charging $650,000 in luxuries to union accounts. Pat Tornillo, on leave as president of United Teachers of Dade, pleaded guilty August 25 to mail fraud and filing a false tax return in exchange for a two-year prison sentence, restitution, payment of back taxes and a fine. During his controversial four-decade reign, Tornillo built the largest labor union in the South and spent union funds lavishly on Democratic causes.
California students won't have to pass the state's high school exit exam to graduate until 2006. The state board of education voted in July to postpone the requirement for two years following the release of statistics indicating that one in five members of the class of 2004 would not receive a diploma because they would fail to pass the test. The test was mandated by the state legislature in 1999 as part of Gov. Davis's sweeping education reform efforts. The California Teachers Association, the state's largest teachers union, has harshly criticized the test and wants to kill the graduation requirement entirely. The exit exam tests reading and writing at 10th-grade level and math at 6th-7th-grade levels plus Algebra I.
A Mississippi truancy officer pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography downloaded from his school computer. Frank J. Perniciaro, 43, resigned under pressure in July 2001 and was sentenced April 10 to a year in prison and two years' probation by a judge in Hancock County, Miss. As a school attendance officer, he was in close contact with children and was controversial for having the parents of truant students arrested.
A course on "How to be Gay" at the University of Michigan raises legislators' hackles. Taught for the last several years at the Ann Arbor campus, the course has prompted some state legislators to propose a bill giving the legislature the power to prohibit certain classes. "The majority of taxpayers would not favor use of public dollars for a class like that," said Rep. Jack Hoogendyk (R-Kalamazoo) (mlive. com, 8-21-03). In 2000, the legislature was just four votes short of passing a bill to cut off government funds for gay studies courses.
Teaching to the test can be good, concluded a Manhattan Institute study of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. If the test effectively measures a broad set of knowledge, like learning to read and do math, teaching to the test "can be a positive development," wrote researchers Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters. "By forcing teachers to alter their curricula and teaching techniques in order to get their students to pass the FCAT, Florida has forced them to better prepare their students for life outside the classroom walls" (Tallahassee.com, 2-19-03).
New York City started a high school for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender students. The new Harvey Milk High School, the first of its kind in the country, opened with 100 students in September following a $3 million renovation. State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long denounced the school as "social engineering" that wastes tax dollars (nypost.com, 7-28-03).