State and local briefly

Posted: Thursday, March 09, 2000

Senate withdraws changes in Pledge bill

JUNEAU - The Senate withdrew changes to a bill requiring the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, capitulating Wednesday to the House's resounding rejection of those amendments.

When the bill sponsored by Rep. Jeannette James passed the House unanimously last year, it called for a regular recitation of the pledge and contained language requiring school districts to inform students, teachers and other staff of their right not to participate.

The Senate changed House Bill 192 to require schools to recite the pledge daily and removed the requirement to inform people they could opt out. That prompted an intense debate about religious freedom in the House, even though James, a North Pole Republican, did not oppose the Senate's changes.

Rep. Eric Croft, an Anchorage Democrat, said the revised bill could lead to a backlash against people with religious objections to the pledge. He urged any lawmaker who believed in religious freedom to reject the Senate version.

Ten majority Republicans and four dissident Republicans joined minority Democrats in a 25-10 vote to send the measure back to the Senate. With little discussion, the Senate withdrew the amendment and adopted the House version 19-0. The measure now goes to Gov. Tony Knowles.

Moderate quake jolts Southcentral Alaska

ANCHORAGE - A moderate earthquake shook up Southcentral Alaska on Wednesday afternoon but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The quake struck at 2:07 p.m. and had a preliminary magnitude of 5.3, according to the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer. The temblor was 64 miles deep and was centered 90 miles northwest of Anchorage and 40 miles west of Talkeetna.

The Alaska Earthquake Information Center said the quake was felt from Anchorage to Fairbanks.

Upgrades disrupt cabin reservations

ANCHORAGE - Old-fashioned phones will be the best way to reserve Forest Service cabins during certain times this month.

That's because computer upgrades will disrupt Internet reservations for the recreation cabins in the Chugach and Tongass National Forests. Because the work will be done during off-hours, phone-in reservations are not expected to be affected, according to the National Recreation Reservation Service, the company that handles the cabin reservations.

The company's computer system must be shut down during the work, which is scheduled to continue between 6 p.m. today and 3 a.m. Friday. Upgrade work also will disrupt Internet access March 13 from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m.; March 20 from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m.; and March 23 from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Student dies during gym class

ANCHORAGE - A 10th grade student at Dimond High School died Wednesday after passing out during gym class.

The sophomore, whose name was not released, was playing badminton about 1:45 p.m. when he collapsed, said Roger Fiedler, a spokesman for the Anchorage School District. The school nurse was immediately summoned and paramedics were called, Fiedler said.

The student was taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center. Later, school officials were notified that the boy had died, Fiedler said. A nursing supervisor at the hospital declined to release any details.

The death prompted school district officials to cancel math exit exams - the third part of the exams - for Dimond sophomores that had been scheduled for Thursday. The exams have not yet been rescheduled, according to Fiedler. He said exams will still be given at other schools.

School district counselors and psychologists were at the school Thursday to help students, teachers and others cope with the loss, said Bob Christal, superintendent of schools.

``It's just important to focus on the emotional needs of the school right now,'' Christal said. ``This is a tragedy.''

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