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Oregon Chief Reverses Decision To Withhold Funds From Sect

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Oregon's superintendent of public instruction has reversed his decision to withhold state funds from a school district dominated by members of an Eastern-style religious sect.

The superintendent, Verne A. Duncan, decided on the policy change after a state inspection late last month confirmed that a secondary-level vocational program he said had religious overtones had been removed from the curriculum. Mr. Duncan had charged after an earlier personal visit to the school district that the program was "permeated with religious symbolism."

But officials of the Rajneeshee community said last week that although they have dropped the program in order to regain state aid, they are prepared to go to court to have it reinstated.

'Religious Symbolism'

Mr. Duncan released a $1,155 state allocation to Rajneeshpuram Wasco County District 50J, two weeks after he had ordered that all state funds be withheld from the 120-student system.

The funding cutoff, which prompt-ed the Rajneeshees to seek a court injunction, came after he visited the school in February and proclaimed that its "School Without Walls" program "did not look, sound, or feel like a public school."

The program, which allowed high-school students to participate in community-owned businesses to learn skills, was so tied to the teachings of the group's leader, the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, that it violated the separation of church and state, according to Mr. Duncan. (See Education Week, March 27, 1985.)

Members of the Rajneeshpuram board of education said they decided last month to drop the controversial program from the curriculum because it had caused "a lot of unnecessary trouble."

But members of the Rajneeshee community, who say the learning centers are like other districts' vocational-education programs, argue that the program is too important to drop entirely and are investigating legal means to have it reinstated, according to Ma Dhyanrosalie, a spokesman for the community.

--ab

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