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A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has ordered the state's department of education to pay the financially troubled Philadelphia School District about $50 million in disputed reimbursements for special-education.

A spokesman for Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh, however, said the state education department will appeal the ruling. The school district hopes to recover at least some of the disputed funds this year in order to avert closing schools early due to a lack of money.

The court, acting on a suit filed by the city's school board, ruled on Nov. 6 that the state should immediately pay the school district $24 million and another $23 million when the school district's special-education budget undergoes its annual review, according to school district spokesman Elliot Alexander. The state has withheld the special education reimbursements for two years because it questioned whether the school district needed as much money as it claimed to perform the services.

Earlier this year Gov. Thornburgh offered the school district $24 million in an out-of-court settlement. Mr. Thornburgh also promised to seek an additional $12 million in state funds to help the school district offset an estimated $100-million budget deficit. State officials indicated, however, that those funds not would be transferred to the city's schools until July 1982 at the earliest, and possibly as late as December.

The Philadelphia school board decided at its meeting last week not to press the education department to comply with the order, but rather to continue seeking an out-of-court settlement with the state, Mr. Alexander said. The school board, he explained, hopes that the court order might persuade the state "to get moving on this matter."

The chairman of the Pawtucket, R.I., school committee says he was "horrified" to learn last month that padded cells were being constructed at one public school to handle 38 special-education students.

The committee has asked Superintendent William Histen to ban the use of the four-by-six-foot rooms, which were to be padded with an inch and a half of foam, until the program at the Potter School can be fully reviewed.

The children, ranging in age from 6 to 12, have disabilities such as dyslexia. None of them is considered mentally retarded.

A psychological consultant to the school said the three padded rooms were to be used for short-term isolation when a child's physical or verbal aggression might result in injury to himself or to others.

Face-sized plastic windows were to be installed so that teachers and aides could monitor the confined children, according to the psychologist, Robert Harris. And praise for good behavior was to be part of the strategy, he said.

A consultant for the state Department of Education said that he did not know how common such rooms are in Rhode Island because there are neither state nor federal guidelines on their use.

A Tucson, Ariz., physical-education teacher who punished an 11-year-old male student seen walking out of a women's bathroom by making him wear a red dress has been suspended without pay for 15 days by the local school board.

The board suspended Robert Rosenblatt, a teacher at Liberty Elementary School in the Sunnyside District, and reprimanded two school administrators who condoned the punishment, although an ad hoc parents' group demanded that the three be fired.

The boy had been seen leaving the bathroom and was given the option by Mr. Rosenblatt of being paddled or wearing the dress as punishment.

Mr. Rosenblatt allegedly put the boy in the dress and walked him to the principal's office and two classrooms.

Two parents groups formed in reponse to the incident. One, the Committee for Responsible Education, demanded the firings, but a petition circulated by the second group asked that no dismissals be made.

The board also relieved the school's principal, Thomas Stefanek, of any authority for corporal punishment or suspensions for the rest of the semester.

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