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Education Department officials have approved a controversial plan to conduct full-scale security investigations of almost 20 percent of the employees in its office for civil rights, according to the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights.

The department's plan to reclassify lawyers and equal-opportunity specialists in ocr as "critical sensitive," thus subjecting them to extensive background checks of the type required by people handling national-security matters, first surfaced in late April of last year. (See Education Week, May 4, 1983.)

At that time, Harry M. Singleton, the department's assistant secretary for civil rights, said he was opposed to the investigations, in part, because "this is going to come out of our budget and ... there's the question of the privacy rights of my employees."

In a statement released late last month, Representative Don Edwards, Democrat of California and chairman of the House subcommittee, said he had hoped that the 10-month lapse in time meant that Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell "had followed the good advice of [Mr. Singleton] and reconsidered this decision."

Arthur Sinai, the department official who will oversee the investigations, could not be reached for comment last week.

'Layman's Interpretation'


Speaking at a press conference last week on teacher incentive-pay plans, Secretary Bell gave his "layman's" interpretation of the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Grove City College v. Bell.

The Court's decision, which restricted the scope of the federal law barring sex discrimination in federally funded education programs, will probably change the enforcement of the law and thereby require the Education Department to do more paperwork, he said.

The department will now have to determine whether there is federal financial assistance to a program or activity. "We haven't been tracing [federal funds] down to the program or activity," he said, adding that it will be difficult to differentiate between programs and activities.

College athletic programs may continue to fall under the law, Mr. Bell continued, because many higher-education institutions use federal work-study funds to pay athletes for part-time jobs in physical-education departments.

In elementary and secondary education, he said, a school district will be considered a program, according to the Court's ruling, if it receives general aid.

Deterring Violence


A decision on who will receive a $2.2-million grant to operate a proposed National School Safety Center is imminent, according to Gary L. Bauer, the Education Department's deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation.

The clearinghouse on school safety, part of President Reagan's highly publicized initiative to combat school violence and disruptions, will be funded primarily by the Justice Department.--tm, ab, & cc

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