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American Scene

- - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

FLORIDA

Charter schools enroll more than 2 million

MIAMI | The number of students attending charter schools has soared to more than 2 million as states enact laws lifting caps and encouraging their expansion, according to figures released Wednesday.

The growth represents the largest increase in enrollment over a single year since charter schools were founded nearly two decades ago. In all, more than 500 charter schools were opened in the 2011-12 school year. About 200,000 more students are enrolled now than a year ago, an increase of 13 percent nationwide.

"This 2 million student mark is quite significant," said Ursula Wright, interim CEO of the nonprofit National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which released the study. "It demonstrates increased demand by families who want to see more high quality education options for their children."

Ms. Wright and others attribute the boom in large part to the Obama administration's $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition, which rewarded states for taking on ambitious education changes that included expanding charter schools.

ALABAMA

Law raises questions on holiday gifts to teachers

MONTGOMERY | An Alabama student who gives a teacher a Christmas ham or a $25 gift card will be violating the state's tough new ethics law. The possible penalty? Up to a year in jail and a $6,000 fine.

The law allows public officials and employees to accept gifts with only "de minimis" value, but it doesn't give any dollar amount. As schools get ready to let out for the holidays, the State Ethics Commission has been flooded with calls about what students can give their teachers.

The commission said Wednesday that "hams, turkeys or gift cards with a specific monetary value are not permissible." Homemade cookies, coffee mugs and fruit baskets are OK.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Alabama's ethics law is applied more broadly than any other state.

CALIFORNIA

Overnight police raid clears out Occupy camp

SAN FRANCISCO | Police gave protesters at San Francisco's Occupy encampment five minutes to gather belongings before taking down about 100 tents and arresting 70 people as officers dismantled the camp in an overnight raid.

About two dozen officers in riot gear remained at daybreak Wednesday, down from more than 100 who carried out the raid. They blocked access to the former camp site as trash crews raked up paper and plastic bottles, removed chairs and other belongings that had accumulated over the past two months, and pressure-washed the sidewalks.

A handful of protesters stood by, occasionally jeering at officers but otherwise heeding their instructions to stay back.

The raid began about 1 a.m., when dozens of police cars, fire engines and ambulances surrounded the campsite at Justin Herman Plaza and blocked off the area. City officials previously declared the site a public health nuisance.

Police didn't immediately say how many people were in the plaza at the time, but campers put the estimate at 150.

GEORGIA

Apartment worker arrested in brutal slaying of girl

CANTON | A 20-year-old maintenance worker was arrested in the beating death of a 7-year-old north Georgia girl who was abducted and killed at an apartment complex and her body left in a trash bin, authorities said Wednesday.

Ryan Brunn, who lived and worked at the apartment complex, was taken into custody Wednesday afternoon on a murder warrant, said Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan.

Jorelys Rivera was last seen Friday evening leaving the playground to walk back home to get drinks for her friends. Authorities said she was taken to an empty apartment in the complex, where she was sexually assaulted, stabbed and beaten to death.

Mr. Keenan said Mr. Brunn, who has no known criminal record, had keys to the empty apartment and the trash compactor bin where Jorelys' body was placed.

Mr. Brunn, who was being held at the county jail, is not a registered sex offender in Georgia, according to state records online.

MISSISSIPPI

ACLU settles suit over student attire for photos

JACKSON | The American Civil Liberties Union says a Mississippi school district will require students to wear caps and gowns in senior pictures after a lesbian student was left out of the yearbook for wearing a tuxedo.

The Copiah County School District's decision was part of an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union. The group sued in 2010, claiming discrimination against Ceara Sturgis.

The ACLU said Wednesday that the agreement also calls for a picture of Ms. Sturgis in the tuxedo to be added to her class's picture hanging in the school library.

Ms. Sturgis said in a statement she was thrilled to have her photo among her classmates.

A message left for the Copiah County Superintendent of Education wasn't returned.

FLORIDA

4 student expulsions lifted in hazing probe

ORLANDO | Four students who were expelled from Florida A&M University for their role in what is thought to be the hazing death of a marching band member have returned to classes because the investigation is not finished, school officials said Wednesday.

The status of band director Julian White also changed. He had faced termination Dec. 22 but is now on administrative leave with pay, university attorney David Self said during a break in meetings of the school's board of trustees.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement asked the university to stop any disciplinary action until a criminal investigation into the death of Robert Champion is completed. Detectives said hazing played a role in his Nov. 19 death. He died aboard a band bus after a football game against rival Bethune-Cookman University. Witnesses said he vomited before becoming unresponsive.

The famed Marching 100 band has been shuttered as the death is investigated by the Orange County Sheriff's Office, the university and Florida's higher-education governing body.