THE REGION

Deaths of Crows Investigated

Local officials have sent several dead crows from Maryland, Virginia and the District to a national wildlife lab in Wisconsin for testing to determine whether they succumbed to the West Nile virus, which killed and sickened people and wildlife in the New York area late in the summer.

No evidence of the virus has been found locally in people or animals, lab officials said.

The illness, transmitted by mosquitoes, can be carried by fowl, and scientists want to learn whether it is being spread by bird migration. Maryland officials have set up a 24-hour hot line--1-888-584-3110--to take reports of dead birds.

Officials said birds, especially crows, that are found dead from no apparent cause should be reported. Crows were found to be extremely susceptible to the disease in New York.

Among the birds tested so far were 32 ducks killed last weekend by hunters in Dorchester County on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Blood samples were taken and sent for testing.

MARYLAND

Task Force to Look at Minority Students

Maryland education officials are forming a new task force to seek solutions to the lagging performance of minority students.

At a College Park summit attended by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), education researchers and elected officials Tuesday, state Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said the task force will try to coordinate state and local efforts to close the grade and test-score gap between whites and minorities.

No members have been named yet to the new group, the Achievement Initiative for Maryland's Minority Students Council.

A report released last year by state officials found that minority students, particularly African Americans, lag behind white and Asian American students on college entrance exams and on the standardized assessment tests given to elementary and high school students. They also drop out and are suspended at markedly higher rates and have poorer attendance records on average.

Youth's Mother to Attend Funeral

The mother of Mikhail Barg, the 17-year-old Seneca Valley High School student who died Monday of injuries suffered in a car accident last week, will be able to travel from Ukraine to attend her son's funeral tomorrow after receiving help from a local radio station and Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.)

Morella asked the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine for prompt action on a visa for Tatayana Barg, the boy's mother, to travel here, according to Morella's spokesman. WBIG-FM has agreed to cover Barg's airfare. She is expected to arrive today, officials said. Mikhail Barg lived in Germantown with his father and stepmother.

In the last week, students at the school have raised more than $3,700 to help cover Barg's medical costs.

Barg and two friends were injured in an accident last Thursday when Barg lost control of his car during a lunch break trip to a fast-food restaurant and it slammed into a utility pole. Barg's two passengers have since been released from area hospitals.

WSSC Rates Will Stay the Same

Water and sewer rates will not rise for residents of Washington's largest Maryland suburbs for a third straight year.

The Prince George's and Montgomery county councils have reached an agreement that will keep Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission rates at the same level next year. The commission serves 1.6 million residents in the two counties.

The agreement, hailed by county leaders as a sign that the water and sewer agency is operating more efficiently, also calls for expedited debt payments and assumes there will be no increase in personnel costs for the coming year.

THE DISTRICT

Q Street NW Bridge Closed for Repair

The Dumbarton Bridge, which carries Q Street NW over Rock Creek Park between Georgetown and the Dupont Circle area, was closed Tuesday to permit repairs that will last until next August, city officials said.

A public meeting has been scheduled by D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) for Tuesday in response to neighborhood concerns about traffic problems caused by the closing.

Residents complained that the city Department of Public Works did not notify them of the project and voiced concern that commuters are now driving down smaller residential streets.

Gary Burch, chief transportation engineer at DPW, said community groups and the local media were told that the bridge, built in 1915, would be closed for a $3 million renovation. He said that he expects traffic problems to subside and that motorists can use Wisconsin Avenue or P Street NW instead of smaller streets.

Representatives from his office will attend the meeting, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Dumbarton House, 2715 Q St. NW.

Howard Hospital Nurses Authorize Strike

More than 400 nurses and other health-care professionals at Howard University Hospital voted yesterday to go on strike at 7 a.m. tomorrow if they can't reach agreement with the hospital on staffing, overtime and pay raise issues.

The workers, represented by the D.C. Nurses Association, say they haven't received a raise since 1996 and are routinely forced to work overtime shifts because of staff vacancies. The last time hospital employees went on strike was in 1978 for six weeks, said Tom Wachter, nurses association deputy director.

Hospital officials could not be reached for comment last night.

Town Hall Meeting Tonight on Special-Ed

D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Anne Gay, assistant superintendent of special education for the D.C. public schools, will host a town hall meeting on the issue from 7 to 9 tonight at Eastern Senior High School, 1700 East Capitol St. NE.

The meeting is being sponsored by a Northeast Washington-based organization called Families and Friends of Special Children. Dinner will be served at 6 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"Denying these parents the opportunity to bury their child denies them closure and increases the magnitude of this crime greatly.... I think you could substantially mitigate the harm you have caused in this case, sir, by disclosing her whereabouts to her family."

--Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Michael D. Mason in sentencing Hadden Clark for murdering 6-year-old Michele Dorr, whose body has not been found. Clark remained silent.

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