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Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Cases On Gay Teachers' Rights, E.D. Audits

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Washington--The U.S. Supreme Court announced last week that it would rule on the constitutionality of a controversial Oklahoma law that allows school boards to fire teachers who advocate or openly engage in homosexual activity.

In other activity on the first day of their 1984-85 term, the Justices accepted a pair of cases involving audits of federally financed education programs in New Jersey and Kentucky; rejected a case involving the St. Louis area's metropolitan school-desegregation plan; and invited the Justice Department to file a brief in a case challenging a Georgia school board's policy of denying nonpaid political leave to its employees.

Homosexual Conduct

In Board of Education of the City of Oklahoma City v. National Gay Rights Task Force (Case No. 83-2030), the Court has been asked to consider whether a 1980 Oklahoma law providing for the dismissal or suspension of teachers "rendered unfit" because of public homosexual conduct or advocacy runs afoul of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. According to lawyers familiar with the case, no teacher has ever been fired or disciplined under the law.

A federal district court concluded in 1982 that the homosexual-rights group's fears of the law were "un-warranted," but last June the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit held that the measure violated the First Amendment.

In papers filed with the Court, the Oklahoma City school board argued that teachers' free-speech rights "are not absolute and may be subjected to certain restrictions."

Title I Audits

In the federal-audit cases, the Court has agreed to review charges by the Reagan Administration that a pair of federal appeals courts either misinterpreted or misapplied regulations governing Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, now known as Chapter 1 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981.

In the first case, Secretary of Education v. New Jersey (No. 83-2064), the Administration argues that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit incorrectly ruled that 1978 regulations governing the spending of federal aid to disadvantaged students could be applied retroactively to an audit of funds spent in Newark, N.J., from 1970 to 1972. If left standing, the decision would "substantially eviscerate" the Education Department's ability to recoup misspent funds, the Administration said.

In the other case, Secretary of Education v. Kentucky, (No. 83-1798) the Administration has asked the Court to overturn the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit's dismissal of an auditor's finding that 50 school districts in the state had violated Title I regulations forbidding the use of federal funds to supplant state and local resources. Federal auditors had ordered the repayment of $338,000 that had been used for the establishment of self-contained remedial classes. The auditors said state and local resources could have been used to finance their establishment.

St. Louis Desegregation

In other education-related activity, the Court:

Declined to review a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that the state of Missouri must finance a substantial portion of a school-desegregation plan involving public schools in St. Louis and 23 suburban school districts. The state contended that it should be relieved of the financial burden, which could run up to $500 million over the next 10 years, because it was never found liable for segregation in the suburban school systems. The case is Missouri v. Liddell (No. 83-1721).

Invited the Justice Department to file a brief in a case involving a Georgia state legislator's ongoing fight to retain his job as a school district's coordinator of student personnel activities.

In White v. Dougherty County Board of Education (No. 83-1868), the state assemblyman contends that the school board violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by adopting a policy in 1980 of denying nonpaid political leave to its employees without first clearing it with the Justice Department.

Declined to review Galbreath v. School Board of Broward County (No. 83-2168), which involves a dispute by a Florida horticulture teacher over overtime pay.

The teacher, who, under Florida law, was allowed to belong to a union without having to pay union dues, claimed he was denied due process of law by the school board and the union because they did not allow him to go to arbitration over his dispute. Under the union's contract with the district, access to arbitration was controlled exclusively by the union, which refused to invoke arbitration at the teacher's request.

Declined to review Renfore v. Kirkpatrick (No. 83-1854), in which a nontenured kindergarten teacher from Alabama alleged that her First Amendment rights to free speech were violated because she was fired, allegedly for airing grievances during a school-board meeting that was open to the public.

Let stand Illinois state-court rulings in Erickson v. Board of Education, Proviso Township High School District No. 209 (No. 83-1853). The Court had been asked to decide whether an Illinois school board violated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by paying female coaches less than male coaches when both sets of coaches had similar duties. State trial and appeals courts upheld the school board's position that it was not in violation of the federal law, and the state supreme court declined to review the case.

Declined to decide whether the New York City Board of Education violated the due-process rights of a teacher of homebound children by revoking his license to teach without a hearing to determine whether he was qualified to hold the license. The case is Lubin v. Board of Education of the City of New York (No. 83-1862).

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