Testimony Ends in Maine Private-School Trial
Bangor, Me--Testimony in an eight-day federal trial over the state's right to impose educational standards on religiously-affiliated private schools concluded here last week in U.S. District Court.
The Maine Association of Christian Schools (macs) sued the state 16 months ago in an effort to prevent state officials from closing several fundamentalist schools that did not meet curriculum and teacher-certification requirements.
The case has attracted national attention because it is the first of its kind in federal courts and because Maine's requirements are "the least restrictive" of the 12 states that have private-school licensing requirements, according to experts brought in to testify in this case.
In 1960, only five states had such licensing requirements, but out of a "fear of rapidly increasing private-school growth and declining public-school enrollment," states have imposed licensing, according to Donald A. Erickson, professor of education administration at the University of California at Los Angeles. Mr. Erickson testified as an expert witness for the plaintiff schools.
Russell A. Kirk, the conservative philosopher who directs the social-science program of the Educational Research Council of America, testified that state certification and the holding of a bachelor's degree in liberal arts "have no relation to good teaching."
Instead, he and Mr. Erickson advocated periodic student-achievement testing as a measure of the effectiveness of teachers.
However, George F. Mataus, a professor of education evaluation at Boston College, and director of the Center for Educational Testing Evaluation and Policy told the court that "such testing is more intrusive to a religious educational environment than teacher certification or licensing." He said testing "has a chilling effect on curriculum. ... Minimum-competency testing examines subjects in only a very low level and excludes critical thinking."
He testified that such testing leads to the creation of "a very homogeneous group of citizens."
Kevin A. Ryan, a Boston University education professor who was a witness for the state, testified that "a state's most precious natural resource" is its children. Mr. Ryan said the best way to preserve this resource is to assure that all teachers in public and private schools are competent, especially in the core curriculum areas of "literacy, calculating, and good citizenship."
macs is represented by William Ball of Harrisburg, Pa., who has had a string of state court victories on similar issues.
He was among the candidates recommended to President Reagan last year to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court that ultimately was filled by Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Because of the amount of physical evidence--some 200 exhibits--as well as testimony to be weighed after the two sides' final arguments in May, Judge Conrad K. Cyr is not expected to issue his decision until the summer.
Meanwhile, United Press International reported that the fundamentalist schools last week rejected an offer by the state board of education to reduce teacher-certification requirements for the schools if they would agree to settle their suit out of court.
But Joyce Roach, chairman of the state board, said that although the board held a meeting in the middle of last week and voted to eliminate the certification requirements for teachers of art, music, industrial arts, and other electives, it did not make a definite offer to the Christian schools group to settle out of court. There was "a hope," she said, that the schools would drop the case when they learned of the change in the law.