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A federal district-court judge has temporarily blocked West Virginia's new school-prayer amendment, after hearing witnesses' testimony at a hearing last month that children were being forced to pray against their will.

Judge Elizabeth Hallanan, with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, issued a preliminary injunction Feb. 1 in a suit brought by opponents of the law. The judge deferred ruling on a permanent injunction until more evidence is introduced in the case.

West Virginia's voters passed the school-prayer amendment by a wide margin on the November ballot. The measure, which took effect in January, requires public schools to hold periods of "prayer, contemplation, or meditation" each day. But teachers are not supposed to force students to participate.

Plaintiffs in Susan Breseman Walter v. West Virginia Board of Education contend that the law violates the separation of church and state mandated by the First Amendment. The plaintiffs include members of the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths, as well as the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union and the National Council of Jewish Women.

In December, Roy Truby, state superintendent of public instruction, issued prayer guidelines for county school officials. But Mr. Truby said on the witness stand that he is personally opposed to the amendment.

Florida's master-teacher program has run into an unexpected snag: Errors on about 10 percent of the application forms for the program have caused otherwise qualified teachers to be dropped as candidates.

The state has a contract with the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., to administer the program "under very stringent guidelines," said Frank A. Mirabella, chief cabinet aide and information director for the Florida education department.

Those guidelines include a computerized application process that assures that all candidates supply necessary information. But in about 10 percent of the 35,000 applications for the program, the information on the forms was incorrect or incomplete, Mr. Mirabella said. As a result, they could not be processed and the teachers were dropped from the program although they may have been qualified for it.

The state attorney general approached Ralph D. Turlington, the commissioner of education, about the problem early this month. The commissioner's office is working with the state board of education and the attorney general's office to try to come up with a solution as soon as possible, Mr. Mirabella said.

The program, which the legislature first approved in 1983 and amended last fall, will pay eligible teachers a total of $3,000 in two installments, the first in June and the second in September.

The Rhode Island Federation of Teachers has sued 6 state agencies, 11 communities and school boards, and 159 companies to force them to adopt an asbestos-safety plan and pay punitive damages to union members.

The union's president, Edward J. McElroy Jr., said the teachers' union filed the class action on Jan. 23 because the defendants had been "negligent" in protecting the union's approximately 8,700 active and retired members against the risk of cancer from inhaling asbestos fibers in schools.

He said the "straw that broke the camel's back" was information that in some instances teachers had been asked to look through school buildings for asbestos for the purpose of filing an asbestos report. The teachers, he said, had no training for the task.

The suit would require defendants to come up with a comprehensive plan for ending asbestos risks, including standards and schedules to inspect for and correct asbestos hazards; training, certifying, and licensing of contractors; and periodic medical examinations of employees who may have been exposed to airborne asbestos fibers.

Defendants in the union's suit, which was filed in Rhode Island Superior Court, include the department of education and the board of regents for elementary and secondary education, as well as the board of governors for higher education.

The District of Columbia is considering new regulations that could alter the tax-exempt status of churches that provide such community programs as preschool and after-school activities.

According to Sophia L. Green, a lawyer for the city's finance department, churches qualify for property-tax exemptions if they are "primarily and regularly used for public religious worship." The proposed regulations state that, to qualify for tax-exempt status, a church must use at least 60 percent of its floor space more than 30 percent of the time the church is open for religious worship.

Rev. George W. Hill, senior minister of the Calvary Baptist Church in the city, called the proposed regulations "ridiculous."

He said the numerous community programs his church provides are "as much a part of our religious duty as what we do during that hour on Sunday."

Ms. Green said the purpose of the proposed regulations is not to take the exemptions away from churches and other nonprofit organizations that are involved in community and charity work, but to "clarify" existing property-tax laws.

If a church does not qualify for an exemption because of its community activities, "it is possible that it might qualify for an exemption as a public charity or a nonprofit school," Ms. Green said.

The Connecticut Supreme Court has ordered that a former superintendent of schools, seeking court costs he claims he incurred as part of his work, be given a hearing in a state court that had previously refused to take his case.

After the local school board refused to reimburse Anthony F. King, former superintendent of schools in Watertown, for legal fees he incurred while fighting an attempted court injunction that would have blocked a termination payment to him, he appealed to the state superior court, where his case was dismissed without a hearing, said Donald J. Deneen, Mr. King's lawyer.

Mr. King had asked that the school board pay his $4,500 court costs under a state law that requires boards of education to reimburse financial losses sustained by employees as part of their jobs.

According to Mr. Deneen, the superior court ruled that the law applied only to cases in which there was a claim for damages that had to be reimbursed.

But in reviewing the case, the state supreme court found that the law had been broadened in the early 1970's to include injunctive actions as well and returned the case to the superior court to decide if Mr. King incurred the court costs in the course of his job.

No date has been set for the lower court's hearing.

A majority of the 1,215 Texas elementary-school principals polled in a recent survey said they oppose attempts to dilute the omnibus school-reform law enacted by a special session of the legislature last summer.

The poll, which was conducted by the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association, surveyed association members in an attempt to stress to Texas lawmakers the important elements of the $2.8-billion Educational Opportunity Act of 1984, according to Gene Stokes, president of the association.

Because of Texas's gloomy financial situation, the legislature is expected to set tough budget priorities this year. And although Gov. Mark White has pledged to honor the commitments made to education in July, some observers are predicting that lawmakers will seek ways to cut spending.

The survey found that the administrators support most of the elements of the reform bill.

The principals surveyed gave the highest approval rating to the element of the law that calls for limiting class size in the early grades to 22 students, Mr. Stokes said. Many of the respondents also said they favored full-day kindergarten, special programs for low-income students, and performance-based teacher pay. Most of the respondents also said they opposed teacher-competency testing, he noted.

Gov. Rudy Perpich's Task Force on Biotechnology has called for major improvements in science education in Minnesota and the establishment of a state high school for the sciences.

The task force report, which was prepared by the gubernatorial group and the Minnesota Office of Biomedical/Health Systems, issued eight recommendations designed to improve education and the "biotechnical" business climate in the state. The panel noted in its report that other states are "considerably ahead" of Minnesota in biotechnological research and training.

Biotechnology, according to the report, is the "modern-day capability of altering living cells to make novel products" for agriculture, medicine, forestry, and computers. Its advancement is seen in the report as key to improving the state's economic condition.

The report also calls for a strengthened K-12 science curriculum, support for undergraduate collegiate programs in biotechnology, a strengthened University of Minnesota biotechnology faculty, and tax breaks and other incentives for new biotechnological companies.

The 13-member task force, headed by Franklin Pass, chairman of Molecular Genetics Inc., is made up of educators and businessmen. Governor Perpich has made the panel a permanent body; it will continue to evaluate the status of biotechnology in the state.

Maryland public-school teachers will now be restricted in the number of courses they can teach outside their field of certification.

The Maryland State Board of Education aproved Jan. 30 a new requirement that will prevent teachers from teaching more than two classes outside their own field.

The state will allow school districts to assign teachers to teach the classes for one year, but before a teacher can be assigned the subjects for a second consecutive year, he or she will be required to earn at least six semester-hours toward a professional certificate in each of the fields.

The new requirement, which goes into effect next fall, had been recommended by the Maryland Commission on Quality Teaching. Maryland is one of the few states in the nation that has not previously restricted teachers to their areas of certification, according to David W. Hornbeck, state superintendent of schools.

The Maryland State Teachers Association had opposes the requirement. "It will create more problems than it will solve," said Janice Piccinini, president of the msta "The problem won't be with teachers, but with school systems that will have to cut electives."

The Lyndhurst Foundation has awarded a $149,000 grant to two public higher-education institutions in Tennessee to train adults with strong academic backgrounds to become teachers in the state's secondary schools.

Both the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Memphis State University will offer 10-week training sessions beginning June 3 for 42 Lyndhurst Fellows. The fellows will then spend the school year working in classrooms under the supervision of master teachers. They will receive a $10,000 stipend to cover3their salaries and the cost of tuition at the university and will be certified to teach in secondary schools at the end of the year.

"We're looking for people considering a career change, such as an an engineer with a strong mathematics background; a person retiring from another career who wants now to enter teaching; those who have earned Ph.D's but want to go into a different field, perhaps someone who has reared a family and now wants to be able to go to school," according to Richard Wisniewski, dean of the college of education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The application deadline is April 15. For more information, write to the dean's office, College of Education, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn. 37996.

The Illinois Education Association has unveiled a school-reform plan that features a statewide test for prospective teachers as a condition for certification.

The test is similar to that proposed last month by the iea's national rival, the American Federation of Teachers. The union did not provide details about the test, but noted that it would be similar to other professional exams.

The iea, Illinois's largest teachers' union, also endorsed a plan by two Illinois lawmakers to place a constitutional amendment before voters in 1986 to require the state to fund at least 51 percent of K-12 education costs. The state now finances about 39 percent of education costs.

Other features of the union's reform agenda include higher pay for teachers and all-day kindergarten.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled that two employees in the Oshkosh school district are entitled to insurance benefits covering the cost of surgery to correct obesity.

The employees, Mary Jane Olson and Demaras Evans, had gastric bypass surgery for obesity but their insurer, the Wisconsin Education Association Insurance Trust, declined to pay the costs on the grounds that the insurance plan excluded charges not medically necessary.

The two plaintiffs won their case at the trial-court level. But because the issue had never been decided in Wisconsin and would have a statewide effect, the insurance trust's appeal was sent directly to the supreme court instead of the intermediate court of appeals, according to Francis J. Slattery, attorney for the plaintiffs.

Because the employees were covered not by an insurance company but by an insurance trust established under the federal Employee Retirement Income and Security Act of 1974, their case, although tried in state court, had to be judged under federal law, Mr. Slattery said.

The state Supreme Court held that the denial of benefits was based on interpretive guidelines that had been developed by the insurance trust. Those guidelines, the court held, established additional requirements not stated in the plan and should not have been relied upon.

The court awarded the plaintiffs full benefits plus interest and attorney's fees.

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