Chief of Civil-Rights Panel Troubled by Ruling in Title IX Case
Washington--The chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in strongly worded letters to the Secretary of Education and the Attorney General, has warned that a recent decision by a federal district judge could be interpreted as exempting local school programs funded under the new federal education block grant from compliance with civil-rights laws protecting the rights of women, the handicapped, and minorities.
Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., chairman of the independent federal commission, said in the letters to Cabinet members Terrel H. Bell and William French Smith that he was concerned that U.S. District Judge D. Dorich Warriner's July 7 ruling in University of Richmond v. Bell might be used as a blueprint to "decimate" regulations governing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
In the Richmond case, Judge Warriner ruled that the Education Department (ed) could not enforce Title IX in an intercollegiate athletic program that receives no direct financial assistance.
But Judge Warriner's ruling, Mr. Pendleton said, "reaches far beyond sex-discrimination prohibitions in athletics." By the judge's logic, he argued, local education programs supported by the federal block grant would be exempt from compliance with civil-rights rules because they would not receive their funds directly from the federal government.
The federal education block grant, known as Chapter II of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act, folded 27 former categorical-aid programs into a single grant to the states. The states are required to pass on at least 80 percent of their federal grant monies to local education agencies, which may use the funds for a variety of purposes, such as law-related education and guid-ance counseling.
On several occasions in the past, Secretary Bell has told the Congress that local education programs funded through Chapter II would be required to comply with all pertinent civil-rights regulations, a point that Mr. Pendleton recognized in his letter. The chief of the civil-rights monitoring agency also said he was troubled by the Richmond ruling because it would curb ed's authority to investigate alleged civil-rights violations.
The ruling, he pointed out, would prohibit ed's office for civil rights from investigating alleged civil-rights violations in education programs "absent a prior showing that such said program or activity is the recipient of direct federal financial assistance."
"Civil-rights enforcement in education thus often will be deterred from the start if the Department has to prove its jurisdiction before collecting evidence," Mr. Pendleton said. "The court's restrictions con-tradict the elementary principle of administrative law that agencies do not have to prove they have jurisdiction before investigating to determine their jurisdiction."
In summary, Mr. Pendleton said, the Richmond ruling, if accepted by ed as proper, "would decimate civil-rights protections in education." Mr. Pendleton asked both Mr. Bell and Mr. Smith to inform him of their agencies' responses to the ruling and to appraise him of their specific positions "on the various issues that it raises."
President Reagan assigned Mr. Pendleton to the chairmanship of the commission late last year after dismissing Arthur S. Flemming from the post. Mr. Flemming had chaired the commission since 1974. Mr. Pendleton, former president of the Urban League of San Diego, was named to replace Mr. Flemming because his views on civil-rights enforcement were widely expected to be consistent with those of the President.