MARYLAND

Montgomery Appeals Diversity Ruling

The Montgomery County Board of Education yesterday filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a reversal of a lower-court ruling that struck down the county's race-based system of restricting student transfers in order to keep schools desegregated.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled in October that the county's policy of considering race and ethnicity in deciding whether to allow student transfers is unconstitutional. Last month, the board voted unanimously to challenge the ruling, arguing that consideration of race and ethnicity is necessary to avoid creating racially isolated schools and to maintain the benefits derived from educating students in a diverse environment.

"The Supreme Court has ruled before that local school officials have the authority and responsibility to correct and avoid racial segregation," Patricia O'Neill, the board's president, said yesterday in a statement. "The lower court's decision undermines nearly a half-century of progress in Montgomery County and, indeed, the nation in recognizing the benefits of diversity among children in our schools."

The school system's transfer policy was challenged last year by a parent who wanted to transfer his son into the math and science magnet program at Rosemary Hills Elementary School. But school officials denied the white student's transfer because the white student population at his neighborhood school, Glen Haven, had fallen from 39 percent to 20 percent since 1994.

Montgomery's school board has suspended the transfer policy after the ruling of the Richmond appeals court, pending a decision by the Supreme Court.

Panel to Study Juvenile Probation Policies

A 12-member panel newly appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) will review ways to improve the state's system of probation for juvenile offenders.

The panel, which is headed by retired Washington County Circuit Judge Daniel W. Moylan, will study the state's "aftercare" programs and recommend strategies to reduce the likelihood that juvenile offenders will again commit crimes after they are released from the system.

Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) said they would appoint the panel after a series of stories in the Baltimore Sun earlier this month revealed abuses at a state "boot camp" for delinquent youths in Western Maryland and shortcomings in juvenile probation services.

The panel, which is slated to conclude its work by Feb. 28, also includes Del. Nancy K. Kopp (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-Baltimore), as well as experts in a variety of juvenile justice issues. Yesterday, Glendening announced the appointment of U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) of Baltimore as the panel's 12th member.

VIRGINIA

Woodbridge Man Dies in Dale City Crash

A 19-year-old Woodbridge man died early yesterday when his car slid off a road in Dale City, flipped over and hit a tree.

Jason Phillip LaRoche, of Ruxton Drive, was pronounced dead at the scene about 12:30 a.m. Prince William County police said LaRoche was rounding a curve on Spriggs Road, heading east near the Chandler Drive intersection when he lost control of his 1999 Honda Civic. Police spokesman Dennis Mangan said speed contributed to the accident. LaRoche, who was wearing a seat belt, was alone in the car.

Accident Victim Was From Silver Spring

A construction worker who fell three stories and died while working on renovations at the Pentagon Wednesday night has been identified as Carman Bolanos, a 23-year-old resident of Silver Spring, a Pentagon spokesman said yesterday.

Bolanos was cleaning loose mortar from around the outside of a third-floor window when he fell to the ground and into a ditch about 6:30 p.m., said the spokesman. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The accident was the first fatality since the massive renovation project began four years ago. An investigation is continuing; Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said Bolanos was not wearing a safety harness.

Norfolk Eschews Sticks and Stones

Borrowing from "The Three Little Pigs," the city of Norfolk has christened its first straw building--a handsome, if quirky, office for the head of the Norfolk Environmental Commission. Built largely by volunteers under the guidance of a "straw specialist," the energy-efficient structure took about $5,000 and more than a year to complete, a showpiece of alternative, ecologically friendly construction.

Measuring 8 1/2 by 20 feet, the office looks nothing like the straw house of Big Bad Wolf fame. Some 100 bales of straw are packed 16 inches thick in walls of layered stucco and plaster. The only evidence of the straw is visible through a porthole cut into a wall for curious visitors to peek through.

A nearby plaque explains the benefits of building with straw: three times the insulation as mainstream materials, lower heating and cooling costs, fewer trees destroyed, and a celebration of a homespun technique popularized by 19th-century settlers on the cold Midwestern plains.

Wary of repeating what befell the little pigs, city building inspectors worried that the structure would be blown over . . . not by a huffing, puffing wolf, but by a hurricane. So officials required the addition of steel braces that one said should withstand winds of 100 mph.

THE DISTRICT

Corrections Chief Installs Watchdog Unit

The D.C. Department of Corrections announced this week that it has established an Office of Internal Affairs to investigate allegations of malfeasance, conflicts of interest and criminal misconduct within the agency.

The unit, which will include a chief and three investigators, will compile and analyze information regarding alleged misconduct within the agency, according to a news release issued by the department. The office will report to Corrections Director Odie Washington.

Washington, who took over the department in March, removed his three top deputies in July, blaming them for mismanagement that led to a $25 million deficit in the city's prison budget.

The Office of Internal Affairs will begin work immediately, the statement said.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"We need to stop looking so bad, compared to even our southern neighbors. It's time for Virginia to spruce up and shape up and look like what we are and to project ourselves as national and world leaders."

--Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) , discussing his plans to clean up the state's rest stops and welcome centers.