PTAs Sue for State Exam Questions

The Fairfax County Council of Parent Teacher Associations filed a lawsuit yesterday seeking release of all questions on the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests given to Virginia public school students in the last two years.

The suit, filed in Fairfax Circuit Court, follows the state's refusal to release the test questions in response to a request filed under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. State officials said that releasing the questions would compromise the integrity of the tests because many are reused.

The state released about 200 questions from the 1998 SOL exams that are not intended to be used again. And state officials say they intend to release the contents of all previous SOL tests by the end of the 2000-01 school year, provided the General Assembly allocates money to increase the pool of test questions.

State to Host Attack-Response Units

Virginia is one of 17 states selected to host new National Guard units trained and equipped to respond to nuclear, chemical or biological attacks, the Department of Defense announced yesterday.

The new units will join 10 others created two years ago as part of a Pentagon initiative to better prepare the nation for responding to attacks involving weapons of mass destruction.

Each team consists of 22 full-time National Guard soldiers, who the Pentagon says will be able to quickly respond to attacks, assess the situation, provide medical help and assist local authorities.

The units, called weapons of mass destruction civil support teams, are expected to be established between March and July, the Pentagon said.

Judgment in Discrimination Suit Tossed

A divided Virginia Supreme Court threw out a $100.5 million judgment against Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. yesterday in a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by a fair-housing organization.

The October 1998 verdict in favor of Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) was the largest judgment ever in a fair-housing case, said Shanna L. Smith, executive director of the National Fair Housing Alliance in Washington.

But the Supreme Court ruled 4 to 3 that HOME lacked standing to sue because it was not injured by the company's alleged discrimination against blacks in marketing homeowners insurance in the Richmond area.

The court's minority said a 1991 amendment to the state's fair-housing law gives groups such as HOME the right to sue but still found the punitive damages too large.

Fairfax Black Students Raise Test Scores

Black students in Fairfax County public schools posted the greatest gains on the Stanford 9 achievement tests given last year, evidence that the district is making progress in closing the gap between minority and white student achievement, Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech said.

The tests are given to Fairfax students in grades 4, 6 and 9.

Black students on average scored at or above the 50th percentile on six of the 30 tests, compared with only three out of 30 tests the previous year. Their average scores increased by a total of 82 points on the 30 tests, compared with gains of 60 points for Asian Americans, 8 points for non-Hispanic whites and 7 points for Hispanics.

Despite the progress, black students' scores still lag behind those of other ethnic groups. Average scores of white and Asian American students were at or above the 50th percentile on all tests at all grade levels; scores of Hispanic students were at or above the 50th percentile on 14 of 30 tests.


State Fails in Arbitration Attempt

The state failed again to force lawyer Peter G. Angelos into arbitration to determine his fees for representing the state against big tobacco companies.

Angelos argues he is owed 25 percent of the $4.7 billion settlement with the state, as agreed to in his original contract with state officials.

The Court of Special Appeals on Wednesday denied the motion of state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D) for an injunction pending appeal.

Curran's appeal of a Baltimore Circuit Court judge's refusal to grant him injunctive relief is still to be briefed before the appeals court. But Curran could not persuade the court to reverse the judge's escrow order.

"This is the second time they tried to get quick relief from the court," said William F. Gately, Angelos's attorney, "and the second time they've been denied."


Adams-Morgan Event Proceeds Donated

Organizers of last fall's Adams-Morgan Community Festival plan to distribute $3,500 in proceeds from the event to seven community groups today in observance of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

Tom Oliver, director of Western Public Interest, the marketing firm that organized the festival, said the amount represents more than 10 percent of gross revenue from the event, which was converted last year from Adams-Morgan Day to a community-oriented festival.

Recipients of the money include groups that run youth and senior citizen programs, parks and street beautification programs and public health campaigns. They are: EOFULA; ThumbsUp!; Marie Reed School; the Reid-Cooke Neighborhood Association for H.D. Cooke School; a Ward 1 public health education campaign; and the Kalorama and Lanier Heights Citizens Associations for Walter Pierce Park.


Prayer Service for Egyptian Victims

A prayer service for victims of recent clashes between Muslims and Christians in Egypt will take place at 9 a.m. today at St. Mark's Coptic Christian Church, 11911 Braddock Rd., Fairfax.


"The facts of this case have been troubling to everyone who has been involved. My hope is that there will be lessons that can be drawn from this tragedy for systemic improvements."

-- Judith Meltzer, the court-appointed monitor of the D.C. child welfare system, on the death of 23-month-old Brianna Blackmond, who was killed after a judge ordered her returned to her biological mother's home from a foster home.