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3 Phila. Girls Seek Admission to Elite School for Boys

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As part of a national effort to use state equal-rights amendments to further equity for women in education, the Women's Law Project has challenged the boys-only admissions policy of an elite public high school in Philadelphia.

The nonprofit women's law group has already won one victory, in another case. Last week, Girard College, founded in Philadelphia in the 19th century as an elementary and secondary school for "poor white male orphans," was ordered by a Pennsylvania court to admit girls as soon as facilities and programs for them could be provided.

Legal Action Initiated

Opening a second front late last month, the women's organization initiated legal action, in cooperation with the American Civil Liberties Union, against the 146-year-old male-only admissions policy of elite Central High School, a policy that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court five years ago in the case of Vorchheimer v. School District of Philadelphia.

The class action, filed in Pennsylvania's Court of Common Pleas, claims that Central High School's single-sex policy violates the state's 11-year-old Equal Rights Amendment, and the state constitution's equal-protection and nondiscrimination clauses.

Lawyers for the two organizations are seeking an injunction that would allow three girls to start classes this week at Central High School, where the 1,300 male students are selected from around the city on the basis of academic merit.

According to Susan Cary Nicholas, managing attorney of the Women's Law Project, the girls contend that Central High School has better programs in mathematics, science, foreign languages, and the arts than Girls High School, also a selective public school, where they are currently enrolled.

However, Ms. Nicholas said last week that she doubted an injunction would be granted before the opening of school yesterday.

She said that the injunction is being sought on the grounds that the Supreme Court did not consider Pennsylvania's equal-rights amendment when the school's male-only admissions policy was contested in 1977.

Request Approved

The Girard College case was resolved last week when Judge Charles Klein of the city's Orphans Court approved the city's request that it be allowed to admit girls.

The school, supported by a private bequest but administered by the city, did not admit nonwhite males until the 1960's, when the Supreme Court held that the whites-only admissions policy must be changed, contrary to the provisions of the founder's will.

The Women's Law Project and the National Organization for Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund had filed a sex-discrimination suit against the school on behalf of a 12-year-old south Philadelphia girl, Sharone Gray, who was refused admission.

Ms. Nicholas said that the organization has chosen Pennsylvania for ''pilot" suits in its initial efforts to promote sex equity in education in the 16 states that have equal-rights amendments.--tt

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