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Discipline Official Scrutinized Following Safety-Center Uproar

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Washington--A key figure in the Reagan Administration's effort to promote school discipline may be relieved of some duties upon his return from administrative leave, a Justice Department official suggested last week.

George Nicholson, director of the federally supported National School Safety Center, affiliated with Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., was expected to return to the center this week, following what a university spokesman called a monthlong "vacation."

"I'm not sure whether his role will remain the same," said Alfred S. Regnery, administrator of the Justice Department's office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, which is supporting the center through a noncompetitive two-year grant of nearly $4 million.

That decision is up to the university, which sponsors the Sacramento-based center, Mr. Regnery said in remarks before the Senate subcommittee on juvenile justice during an oversight hearing on his agency's activities.

University officials last month asked Mr. Nicholson to stay away from work pending their investigation of a staff "rebellion" there following his dismissal of three employees for budgetary reasons, said Mr. Regnery. Four other employees resigned to protest the layoffs, which resulted from a budget cut of nearly $200,000, he added. (See Education Week, May 8, 1985.)

Mr. Regnery said he had maintained close contact with Ronald Stephens, the university official responsible for administering the grant, and that he "expressed faith" in Mr. Nicholson's abilities but did not intercede on his behalf with the university.

Grant Suspect

Charges that the award of the noncompetitive federal grant to Mr. Nicholson for the center's operation involved political favoritism were investigated last year by House and Senate staff members. Mr. Nicholson is a longtime associate of Attorney General Edwin Meese 3rd, who was counselor to the President at the time the grant was made.

At last week's hearing, Senator Howard Metzenbaum, Democrat of Ohio, complained to Mr. Regnery that the juvenile-justice office has failed to provide information requested by the subcommittee about the grant. Mr. Regnery responded that he accepted responsibility for the breakdown but said he was unaware of it.

Pornography Study

The Senators at the hearing also pressed Mr. Regnery for more information about a $734,371 study being funded by his office involving a review of all back issues of the major sex-oriented magazines, Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler, to assess3their child-pornography content.

Under the auspices of the American University School of Education, Judith S. Reisman, a former writer for the "Captain Kangaroo" television program, will oversee a "content analysis" of the depiction of children in those periodicals. Federal officials say they eventually intend to determine whether there is a connection between such images of children and child molestation, but Ms. Reisman, speaking at the hearing, said her study "is not original research" and will not try to draw a causal connection.

Explaining the narrow scope of the project, she said, "In order for us to know what the material does, we have to know what the material is."

Senator Metzenbaum expressed dismay that the analysis will require seven full-time and 12 part-time staff members. He said he was "positive that it's a waste of government money."

Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and subcommittee chairman, expressed similar concerns, noting that the juvenile-justice office is spending only $1 million to study suicide among teen-agers.

Mr. Regnery responded that he doubted whether suicide qualified as a "delinquent" activity. The Senator, however, noted that attempted suicide and abetting a suicide are illegal in several states.

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