States News Roundup
The West Virginia Supreme Court has affirmed the state's compulsory-attendance law in a case that hinged on the right of parents to educate their children at home, without state approval, if they believed the public-school curriculum conflicted with their religious beliefs.
Judge Richard Neely, writing the unanimous opinion, said that "sincerely held religious convictions are never a defense to total noncompliance with the compulsory school-attendance law."
State law does not prohibit education at home, but it does require county school officials to approve the curriculum and the teacher.
The case began in 1979 when Bobby E. and Esther Riddle were convicted in Harrison County, W. Va., of failing to send their two children to public schools. The Riddles are members of a Methodist sect that separated from the main church before the Civil War. The group believes that salvation, once achieved, can be permanently lost if a person commits even one sin.
On the basis of this belief, the Riddles first withdrew their children from public schools, then from a private Christian school. They were arrested and fined, and appealed all subsequent court rulings upholding their conviction.
The state Supreme Court's decision did not question the children's achievement, according to a spokesman for the court. Academically, the spokesman said, the children were "probably ahead" of where they would have been in the public schools. Rather, it cited "Exemption B" of the state's compulsory-attendance law, which requires that county superintendents approve home-education proposals not only on academic grounds, but also on the basis of other functions performed by schools, such as health screening and social development.
"We find it inconceivable," Judge Neely wrote, "that in the 20th century the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment implies that children can lawfully be sequestered on a rural homestead during all their formative years to be released upon the world only after their opportunities to acquire basic skills have been foreclosed and their capacity to cope with modern society has been so undermined as to prohibit useful, happy, or productive lives."
The U.S. District Court for Rhode Island has been asked to settle a dispute between the Exeter-West Greenwich School Committee and the state Department of Education over the payment of tuition at private high schools.
Because the Exeter-West Greenwich district does not have a high school, it pays to send its students to nearby North Kingston or to Coventry Vocational Technical School. Under a policy adopted in 1976, the school committee also pays the tuition, up to the amount charged by the two neighboring schools, for district students to attend other public high schools, but it refuses to pay for private schooling.
In October, the state ordered the committee to pay the tuition of a West Greenwich boy whose father sought to enroll him in a parochial school.
The committee has appealed that ruling to the state Board of Regents for secondary education and filed suit in federal court.
In its suit, the school committee charges the Department of Education with violating the U.S. Constitution's provision for separation of church and state, as well as the Rhode Island constitution's prohibition of public money for a private education.
Stressing the need to keep up with California's "technological revolution," Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. promised school board members that he will "set aside specific funds to upgrade science, math, and ... vocational education."
Speaking on Dec. 10 at a luncheon given by the California School Boards Association, Governor Brown said, "Education must train millions in the new careers of the 1980's, as new technologies of microprocessors, robotics, satellite communications, and biotechnology sweep across our economy."
"The most basic education shift demanded by this ... revolution" he predicted, "is for more math, science, and computer instruction in our schools."
The governor pointed out that California, the largest state system of public education in the country, lags behind the nation in the amount of math and science students take. He cited College Board reports that 10 percent fewer California students study four years of math than the national average. "And we lag by 50 percent in the number of students taking three or more years of science," he added.
To help solve the problem, Governor Brown said, "We need to support efforts by the university system to increase the amount of math and science study necessary for admission."
The Virginia State Board of Education has rejected a proposal to scrap the state's practice of issuing a permanent teaching license to any education-school graduate who wants to teach.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction S. John Davis had urged the board to begin granting new teachers temporary, two-year licenses. The superintendent's plan would have required the provisional teachers to pass an evaluation by a three-person panel as a condition for receiving permanent certification.
Mr. Davis has argued that his proposal, which was opposed by the Virginia Education Association and the state's teacher-training schools, would have improved the caliber of teachers in the state.
The proposal was endorsed by the state Council of Higher Education and the Southern Regional Education Board, but the state Board of Education defeated it by a 5-4 vote.
The Virginia General Assembly, where several lawmakers have expressed support for tougher licensing requirements, has the authority to amend the board's recommendations.