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Impartial Arbitrator Required in Special Education

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The U.S. Supreme Court last week let stand an appellate-court decision that an impartial hearing officer--not state education officials--must be the final arbiter in disputes over the identification and placement of handicapped students.

Costly Solutions

In the case, McDaniel v. Helms, Georgia state officials had argued that school authorities should decide appeals by the parents of special-education students, because hearing officers from outside the education system might be inclined to impose costly solutions.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled last year that, under P.L. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, an impartial hearing officer was required. The Supreme Court last week refused to review that decision.

The Court also declined to consider an appeal of one school-desegregation case and asked for the Justice Department's views on another.

In Rapides Parish School Board v. Valley, a Louisiana case that attracted national attention in 1980 when a local judge tried to allow students to escape the busing plan ordered by a federal court, the Fifth Circuit last year rejected the school board's contention that racial imbalance in the schools was caused by demographic change. The federal district judge's busing order, the appellate court ruled, was proper so long as there are vestiges of illegal segregation in the school system.

The Supreme Court, in declining to hear the case, allowed the appellate-court decision to stand.

And in the 20-year-old Chicago case, the Supreme Court told the Justice Department to file a brief giving its views on a desegregation technique known as a "stabilization quota."

Student Limit Set

The Chicago school board, in an attempt to prevent "white flight" from two public schools in racially mixed areas, set a limit on the num-ber of black children allowed to enroll in the schools. As a result, some 1,600 black students were required to attend schools outside their neighborhoods.

The quota system was challenged by a group of black students, originally with the support of the Justice Department, which was then at odds with the Chicago board over desegregation.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found the practice justifiable.

'Stabilization Quotas'

Now that the Justice Department and the Chicago board have agreed on a desegregation plan, it is considered likely by some observers that the federal agency will take the board's side on the use of "stabilization quotas."

John V. Wilson, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said he did not know when the brief would be submitted. "It'll probably be a while," he said. "We'll have to start from scratch and look at that case and look at the two high schools again."--P.C.

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