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The Philadelphia Board of Education voted 5-to-3 last week not to appeal a court order that opened Central High School, the nation's second-oldest public high school, to female students for the first time in its 147-year history. Judge William M. Marutani of Pennsylvania's Common Pleas Court had ruled in August that single-sex public schools violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania Equal Rights Amendment.

Since then, students and alumni of both Central and its counterpart for females, Girls High School, had lobbied strongly for an appeal. Just before last week's vote, Common Pleas Judge Lisa A. Richette, a Girls High graduate, told the board it had a "moral obligation" to appeal the decision of her colleague. Judge Richette said Judge Marutani's decision was based on "wrong law" and an intrepretation of the Pennsylvania era that was never intended.

However, Samuel P. Katz, a Central alumnus who is a member of the school board, said that "the only issue that really matters in this case is the issue of whether a public body receiving public funds has the right to, on the basis of sex or any other consideration, exclude anyone. I believe we have no choice but to take the position that we cannot."

On the day last week that the Congressional task force on merit pay released its final report, one of its members criticized the low level of federal investment urged in the report.

Mary H. Futrell, who is the new president of the National Education Association, said she recalled discussions at panel meetings calling for expenditures of about $5 billion in federal funds. The panel's final recommendations would require about $200 million in federal funding--considerably less than the level recommended in a preliminary draft of the report. (See Education Week, Sept. 14, 1983.)

Ms. Futrell also put some distance between her union and the task force's cautious recommendation that school districts experiment with merit-pay plans.

The nea "does not wholeheartedly encourage experiments with performance-based pay," Ms. Futrell said.

Public-school officials in Arlington, Va., announced last week that they are bound by law to allow New Order, a neo-Nazi group, to use school facilities for a "White Pride Day" celebration.

Regardless of a group's beliefs, said Steve Kurcis, principal of Yorktown High School, it cannot be prohibited from using public facilities.

The conflict between New Order and the high school goes back more than a decade. In 1970, members of the organization (formerly the National Socialist White People's Party) wanted to rent the school's auditorium for a party commemorating the birthday of Adolf Hitler and school officials said no. New Order sued and three years later the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in its favor.

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