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Congressional observers say President Reagan could be denied the opportunity to sign a bill permitting public-school students to say silent prayers during the school day.

According to Congressional aides, the measure could fall victim to disagreements between members of the House and Senate over the extension of several Education Department programs.

The school-prayer measure, which was approved by the House on July 26, was attached as an amendment to a bill reauthorizing 11 education programs, including bilingual education, Indian education, and certain impact-aid payments to school districts. The aides said they expect appointees to the conference committee on the bill to have a difficult time resolving their differences on the sections of the bill extending the lives of those three programs.

If the conferees fail to reach an agreement and the bill dies, all of the programs except impact aid will be automatically extended for one year. A rider extending the impact-aid program has been attached to a fiscal 1985 defense bill.

In addition to the potential conference-committee snag, the staff members predicted that Senator Lowell P. Weicker Jr., Republican of Connecticut and an ardent opponent of previous school-prayer measures, would use all of the parliamentary tactics at his disposal to prevent the Senate from voting on a conference report, if one is forthcoming.

Divide and Conquer

An Education Department lawyer who in March 1982 suggested a "divide-and-conquer" strategy for the then-proposed deregulation of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act has been hired by the Justice Department's civil-rights division.

According to a department official, Hugh J. Beard Jr. has been working for the division, which is headed by Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds, since March.

Mr. Beard achieved considerable notoriety following the disclosure of a memorandum he sent to Thomas Anderson, then special counsel to the Secretary of Education, regarding the Education Department's controversial plan to relax regulations for the special-education law, P.L. 94-142.

The memo suggested that the department consider sending the proposed regulations to the Congress for its approval "in two or more packages" so that "certain controversial parts will not kill off the less controversial parts, and, also, we may be able to divide the enemy."

"On the other hand, Congress may find this to be a trick, which it definitely is, and may react negatively," Mr. Beard warned in the memorandum.

The disclosure of the memo during Congressional hearings, coupled with a flood of negative mail from interest groups and parents of handicapped children, caused Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell to withdraw the proposed rules for further study in October 1982.

The department announced 13 months later that it had permanently shelved the revisions.--tm

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