Fernandez's Ouster

THE ouster of New York school chancellor Joseph Fernandez in a 4-to-3 vote by that city's central board of education carries important warnings for school districts throughout the United States.

At a time when schools are increasingly under pressure to address a range of controversial social issues - from AIDS education to distribution of condoms - it is crucial that school systems not lose sight of the importance of fostering a dialogue with parents. School heads might well take a page from President Clinton's constant efforts to keep in touch with the American people.

The primary complaint against Mr. Fernandez was that he was imperious, unwilling to compromise until absolutely forced to do so.

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Fernandez brought many strengths when he came to the nation's largest school system from Miami in January 1990. Attempting to reform a system marked by high dropout rates, low test scores, and corruption, he fired incompetent principals, upgraded school security, and added innovative remedial programs.

But New York's school chancellor also pushed ahead with his plan to provide free condoms in schools without parental consent, despite strong opposition from many parents and church groups.

Critics saw his proposed "Rainbow Curriculum" as promoting an ideological social agenda at the expense of focusing on educational basics.

The four anti-Fernandez votes came from the city's "neighborhoods" - the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. His three pro-votes came from liberal Manhattan, and the two board members appointed by Mayor David Dinkins.

Fernandez will surely find new opportunities to use his considerable talents to help students. The Big Apple must now find the best possible candidate to succeed him.

Anything less would be a failure in itself.

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