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Court Upholds Michigan's Right To Regulate Nonpublic Schools

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Citing the state's "legitimate interest" in ensuring an adequate education for all students, a three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled last week that the state department of education has the authority to regulate nonpublic schools in the areas of curriculum, teacher certification, and enrollment reporting.

The decision, which reverses a December 1982 opinion by an Ingham County circuit judge, "means that nonpublic-school teachers must meet the same certification standards as those in public schools; that nonpublic-school students receive instruction that is comparable to that taught to their public-school neighbors; and that nonpublic schools meet minimal reporting requirements by the state board of education," state Attorney General Frank J. Kelley said in a prepared statement following the appellate panel's decision in Sheridan Road Baptist Church v. State of Michigan.

Mr. Kelley, in his statement, pointed out that the ruling "is not out of accord with similar decisions in other states." State high courts in Massachusetts, Nebraska, and North Dakota have upheld the authority of state agencies to regulate nonpublic schools, while the high courts of Kentucky, Ohio, and Vermont have ruled in favor of the reli-gious schools. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear several such cases, permitting state-level decisions to stand.

The plaintiffs have already announced their intention to appeal the decision, according to Richard P. Gartner, an assistant attorney general who has handled the case on the state's behalf. Because Michigan permits the status quo to prevail pending appeal, the two Saginaw County church schools involved in the case will not immediately be required to comply with the appellate decision.

"The quality of education in the two schools that sued the state was never an issue," Mr. Gartner said. "They refused to file those membership reports. They do have some certified teachers, but they feel they cannot abide by state's requirements."

The state has no intention of prosecuting parents on truancy charges or otherwise interfering with the school's operation pending the appeal to the state supreme court, Mr. Gartner said.

"We're not going to have a Nebraska problem here," he added, referring to the well-publicized, protracted legal battle between Nebraska authorities and the Rev. Everett Sileven's Faith Christian School.--pc

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