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Educators, Parents Welcome Rules On Students' Rights

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Washington--The Education Department's final regulations regarding student rights in experimental and psychological testing and treatments were generally welcomed last week by representatives of education organizations and parents' groups concerned about federal control over school curricula.

The rules issued by the department on Sept. 6 establish a procedure for the handling of complaints filed under a 1978 law commonly known as the Hatch Amendment.

The first section of that two-part law guarantees the right of parents to inspect federally financed instructional materials used in conjunction with experimental teaching methods.

The second section states that students cannot be forced to submit without prior parental consent to federally financed psychological tests and treatments that reveal matters including sexual behavior, attitudes toward family members, and "potentially embarrassing" mental problems.

Rallying Point

Strict enforcement of the Hatch Amendment has become a rallying point for many of President Reagan's conservative suppporters. And language calling for such enforcement was included in the education plank of the Republican Party's 1984 platform.

In general, spokesmen for the education organizations said they were pleased that in the final regulations the department agreed to their request to specify that persons other than parents and guardians will not be allowed to file complaints under the law.

They argued that the absence of such a provision would have led to "frivolous complaints" and would have provided special-interest groups with a means by which to challenge instructional materials that they found objectionable.

In addition, the organizations' spokesmen said they were pleased that the final rules provided clarifying interpretations of the terms "psychiatric or psychological testing, treatment, and examination," and specified that before persons can file complaints with the federal government they must first prove that they attempted to resolve their disputes at the local and state level.

Research Agencies Included

Representatives of parents' groups concerned with students' privacy rights applauded another change: the department's decision to reverse itself and include research programs supported by the National Institute of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics under the regulations.

In proposed rules published in the Federal Register last February, the department excluded nie and nces from the law's purview, explaining that they legally could not be made subject to the law due to the wording of several laws governing the operation of the department.

Strong Criticism

That decision was strongly criticized by many of those who testified during seven regional hearings on the regulations earlier this year and by many of the more than 1,900 persons who sent written comments to the department. (See Education Week, April 4, 1984.)

In the final regulation, the department explained that a subsequent review of the relevant laws indicated that "it is extremely unlikely that Congress intended to exclude [the agencies] from coverage [under the Hatch Amendment], which is specifically directed at 'research or experimentation' programs and projects and psychiatric and psychological 'examination, testing, or treatment."'

Malcolm Lawrence, coordinator of the Maryland Coalition of Concerned Parents on Privacy Rights in Public Schools, said he was "generally pleased with the department's final product."

"The main reason we wanted nces and nie included was that these are the two major agencies awarding contracts for [the development of instructional materials dealing with] autobiographies, contact sessions, role playing, and the whole values-clarification approach to education," Mr. Lawrence explained. "To exclude them would openly beg the questions that the Hatch Amendment addresses."

He said he hoped the regulations "will give some indication to parents of the kinds of things going on in classrooms and alert them to look out for them." He added that the rules "may well encourage curriculum developers and textbook publishers to stay away from sensitive areas that could get schools in trouble."

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