New England in brief

US orders state to offer ballots in Spanish

September 23, 2008
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The US Department of Justice says Massachusetts must provide Spanish-language ballots and materials to Puerto Rican voters to settle allegations that the state violated the Voting Rights Act. Federal officials say the state's failure to provide the translated materials to Worcester residents in 2001 resulted in Puerto Rican voters not being able to access the polls or cast an informed ballot. The Justice Department said Worcester has complied with the law by providing election materials in Spanish for municipal elections since 2001. Under a settlement unveiled yesterday, whenever Massachusetts provides the city with election materials, they must be in both Spanish and English to accommodate its voting population. The 2000 Census showed 9.9 percent of Worcester residents were of Puerto Rican descent and 5 percent were born in Puerto Rico. (AP)

Professors urge Patrick to scrap MCAS
Dozens of education professors in the state's public college system are calling on Governor Deval Patrick to scrap the MCAS test. The teachers point to preliminary data showing that half the state's public schools have failed to make adequate progress toward meeting federal No Child Left Behind standards for at least two years in a row. That is up from 37 percent a year ago. James Nehring, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, said the increasing number of underperforming schools shows the system is collapsing. State Education Secretary Paul Reville called the MCAS "a key piece of our assessment and accountability system," and said the state would continue to use it as one of several tools to aid student learning. Patrick has said he would not tamper with the MCAS test. (AP)

Results of new firefighting exam released
State officials certified the results this week of a makeup exam administered to Boston firefighters after officials found evidence of cheating on an earlier test. Of the 171 firefighters who took the makeup test, 60 firefighters, or 35 percent, passed and will be promoted to lieutenant when the department has vacancies, according to officials. The other 111 firefighters would have to take the test again. The state Human Resources Division scrapped the results of a November Boston fire lieutenant exam after an investigation found that firefighters talked during the test, brought cellphones into the testing site, and took frequent trips to the restroom. The makeup test was given June 21. The average passing rate in previous tests was 30 percent.

Days with unhealthy ozone fall, EPA says
The US Environmental Protection Agency says people in New England breathed easier this summer, with fewer "unhealthy ozone" days than in 2007. Five of the region's six states had fewer poor air quality days between April and September than in the same period last year. The EPA says the summer of 2008 in the Bay State had 18 days in which ozone monitors recorded concentrations above the health standards, compared with 38 last year. The EPA attributed the decrease to fewer days with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees and the long-term decline in air pollution emissions. Vermont had three unhealthy days this summer, compared with none last summer. (AP)

Tossed cup of java thwarts robbery try
Coffee can offer more than just a morning jolt. A steaming cup of java, it turns out, can also stop a crime. Early yesterday, a customer tossed his coffee on one of two men in hooded sweatshirts and Halloween masks who tried to rob a Cumberland Farms on Route 9, and the would-be robbers scampered away empty-handed, police said. "I think it's pretty heroic," said Brookfield police Sergeant Christopher Welsh. He praised the customer's actions but warned other robbery victims not to follow his example. The crime remains under investigation. Police said it could be linked to two similar robberies at Cumberland Farms stores in Brimfield and Amherst.

US House backs bill to save Concord site
The House approved a bill aimed at preserving Barrett's Farm, a Revolutionary War landmark in Concord. US Representative Niki Tsongas of Lowell said yesterday that the measure would bring the farmhouse under the care of the National Park Service so it can become part of the Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord and Lexington. The farm belonged to Colonel James Barrett, a leader of the Middlesex Militia. It was used to store colonial militia weapons and was searched by the British during the fighting at Concord's Old North Bridge on April 19, 1775. The Senate is considering a similar measure. (AP)

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