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Mich. To Appeal Ruling on Teacher Certification

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Michigan's attorney general has decided to appeal a recent state-court ruling that struck down parts of a 1921 law giving the state the right to require, among other things, that private schools employ teachers certified by the state.

On Dec. 29, Ingham County Circuit Judge Ray C. Hotchkiss found that state control of the schools entangled the state in religion and violated the schools' right to free exercise of religion.

The state will challenge that decision in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

And in another development that occurred prior to the filing of appeal, the scope of the ruling was narrowed by a revised court order that said the decision only applies to the two fundamentalist Baptist schools named in the suit.

The suit was not a class action, but the revised ruling was necessary, said Richard P. Gartner, an assistant attorney general who helped defend the law, because "the ambiguity of the order by Judge Hotchkiss made both parties agree that clarification was needed of exactly what the court ordered."

Mr. Gartner said that the decision by Judge Hotchkiss was too broad, and "basically threw out the law as applied to all nonpublic schools."

The judge wrote: "It is ordered that an injunction [be issued] prohibiting Defendant from enforcing [portions of the law] which this court found to be unconstitutional."

The clarification was issued not by Judge Hotchkiss--who failed to win re-election in November and whose term expired Dec. 31--but by his replacement, Judge Carolyn Stell, on Jan. 12.

Philip J. Murren, who worked for the constitutional lawyer William B. Ball on the side of the plaintiffs, said that although the ruling only applies to the two particular plaintiffs, "as a matter of practicality, I don't think the state's going to be able to move against any other schools until this case is resolved on appeal."

Challenges State Regulations

The case, called Sheridan Road Baptist Church v. Michigan, is a challenge to state regulations requiring "supervision of private, denominational and parochial schools."

The lower court struck down portions of the law--as applied to the two plaintiffs--that required:

That the courses of study and qualifications of teachers ... "be the same standard as provided by the general school laws of the state," and;

That teachers be state-certified.

The lower court said that the state could continue to require the schools to submit their records on pupil enrollment and certification of teachers, but with the stipulation that such information could only be used for "statistical and information purposes" by the state, not as the basis for the type of administrative proceedings against the schools that originally prompted this suit.

In 1980, the state department of education filed a complaint against the two fundamentalist Baptist schools with the state superintendent of public instruction, seeking to close the two schools for their failure to comply with the state law.

The state said that such regulations of the schools are part of a "compelling state interest in the education of children," and that the free exercise clause does not exempt religious organizations from all forms of regulation.

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