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Schools Facing Logistical Quagmire on Chapter 1

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With classes set to begin in a few weeks, public-school officials in the nation's largest cities say they do not know how they will provide Chapter 1 remedial instruction to parochial-school students, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated the way that almost all 183,000 of those students have received the aid.

According to the officials, the Court's July 1 decision in Aguilar v. Felton--which barred school districts from sending teachers into religious-school classrooms--has created a logistical, legal, and financial quagmire of immense proportions.

The officials say they find themselves caught between the Congressional mandate to provide equitable Chapter 1 services to public and private-school students and the Court's ruling that the most efficient way of doing so is unconstitutional.

"There's no way we're going to be able to serve 10,000 [parochial-school Chapter 1] kids as of Sept. 1," said Thomas C. Rosica, executive director of categorical programs for the School District of Philadelphia.

Some school officials say they may try to ignore the ruling until a court order directs them to obey. But the U.S. Education Department has told state authorities, who must approve local Chapter 1 plans, that they may not clear any program for public- and private-school students that violates the Court's ruling.

Complicating matters further, if districts do not provide equitable services to religious-school students, the federal department will consider cutting off all of their federal compensatory-education funds, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett said last week. The department last Thursday released guidelines for dealing with the issue, which state and local officials have sought for most of the summer.

The guidelines instruct states and dis-tricts how to safeguard themselves against federal auditors. They do not, like regulations, have the force of law or compel states and districts to abide by the Court's ruling, local officials noted.

Besides the uncertainty over how to provide Chapter 1 aid to religious-school students, school administrators are vexed by other questions: When must the Court's decision be implemented? How will the extra cost of serving the religious-school students be covered? What are the financial and logistical ramifications of using alternative methods to provide the aid?

The New York City Board of Education, whose program was struck down in the Felton decision, last week petitioned in federal district court for a one-year delay in modifying its current Chapter 1 effort. The case will be followed closely by all interested parties, for if the stay is granted, public- and private-school officials say, they may assume that they too will have a year to implement a new Chapter 1 plan.

Technically, the Supreme Court's Felton decision affirmed a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which ordered that New York City schools be "afforded enough time" to devise a new Chapter 1 program for àreligious-school students.

But a federal judge in Missouri on Aug. 6 ordered the state's schools to comply with the Supreme Court decision by the beginning of the school year.

Meanwhile, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an advocacy group, has asked a federal judge in Louisville, Ky., to im-plement the ruling nationwide by forbidding Secretary Bennett from funding in the coming school year any Chapter 1 program that violates Felton. The department has opposed the motion and asked for a one-year delay, but the judge will not rule until mid-October.

Chapter 1, with a budget of $3.7 billion for the coming school year, is the biggest federal precollegiate-education effort. Of the 4.57 million students who received Chapter 1 services during the 1982-83 school year, 183,000 attended private schools, according to the department's most current data.

According to a 1983 study done for the department, more than 85 percent of Chapter 1 districts nationwide served private-school students at the school they attended. Some 2 percent provided remedial instruction to private-school students in mobile units outside the school building.

Although the Court addressed the apparently narrow issue of the method of delivering Chapter 1 services, the majority's rationale could be used to challenge other federal programs that aid private-school students, lawyers say.

The most widely considered alternatives for serving religious-school students, interviews with school officials indicate, are: the use of mobile units or trailers on a public site near parochial-school grounds; transporting the students to a public-school Chapter 1 class; using a neutral site paid for by the district; and interactive technology.

"We will provide services to all of our eligible nonpublic-school students, but right now we don't know how," said W. Frank Perry, director of Chicago's 78,000-student remedial-aid program.

Until districts settle on an alternative, there is little that they can do, religious-school officials said last week.

"The law says that the public school gets the money and delivers the services," said Brother James Kearney, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of New York.

Education officials of the country's biggest dioceses met in Washington last week to discuss their options, and heard from an attorney for the U.S. Catholic Conference, Charles Wilson, and a federal official, Charles J. O'Malley, executive assistant to Mr. Bennett for private education, among others.

If alternative plans fail to serve religious-school students adequately, religious-school leaders will protest to state and federal authorities, according to Richard F. Duffy, an education official with the Catholic Conference. "If the services are not going to be comparable, then we're going to file complaints," he said.

In an interview last week, Secretary Bennett said that depending upon the "facts and circumstances" of a given situation, he would cut off Chapter 1 funds to these districts, as the law allows.

A July 16 letter that he sent to the nation's chief state school officers carries such a threat, said Lee Boothby, counsel for Americans United. In the letter, Mr. Bennett wrote: the "requirement to serve private-school students on an equitable basis remains in effect and will be enforced by this department."

State education agencies have not yet approved the plans for the nation's biggest programs, according to officials in large cities. State officials said they had been waiting for federal guidance.

Some experts said last week that the Felton decision could result in another court battle between public and religious schools over who will pay the extra costs in providing Chapter 1 services.

All of the alternatives to on-site Chapter 1 instruction in religious schools will add to districts' administrative costs, although school officials say that they will not know how much until new systems are in place.

The Education Department has directed that extra costs--such as the cost of busing religious-school students to another site--come "off the top" of a district's total Chapter 1 allocation, rather than be included in the allocations for private-school students.

Less money would thus be available for public-school Chapter 1 students, noted Bruce Hunter, director of federal-state relations for the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Mr. Boothby said that funding plan will be challenged on the grounds that it violates public-school students' due-process rights and the First Amendment.

The department's formula is based on a 1979 administrative-law ruling in a Norfolk, Va., case, but Mr. Boothby said that ruling does not stand as legal precedent since it has not been tested in court.

Although the biggest school districts appear to face the greatest obstacles in obeying the Supreme Court's mandate, most districts have their own problems and exigencies.

In Philadelphia, it will take at least six months--under the "best of all possible circumstances"--for the city to obtain mobile units that could be used as classrooms, according to Mr. Rosica.

Until the trailers are delivered, Mr. Rosica said last week, he does not know how the students will be served, or even how many can be served.

Once the district gets the units, at $10,000-$20,000 each, he will start wrestling with such problems as where to park them while they are being used and where to store them overnight to protect against vandalism.

In Denver, the effects of a long-time school-desegregation suit prevent officials from even considering the use of trailers to serve nearly 500 Chapter 1 religious-school students, according to Sharon Schonhaut, director of federal relations for the Denver Public Schools.

She said the city's use of mobile units to alleviate overcrowding in predominantly minority schools was one of the violations of the students' rights charged in the suit. Their re-introduction into the system now would instantly raise a "red flag" for U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch, who issued the desegregation order.

The city is likely to use extended-day and summer programs to serve the religious-school students, although Ms. Schonhaut acknowledged that the method will cause "some students to drop out of the program."

The 23 Chapter 1 aides who have gone into six Orlando, Fla., parochial schools will continue to do so until told otherwise, according to Joseph J. Marinelli, associate superintendent for planning and government relations for the Orange County Public Schools.

Mr. Marinelli said he did not want to risk making an alternative arrangement, only to find that the state rules it unacceptable.

Although there are only 200 nonpublic Chapter 1 students in the district, moving the classes off-site will greatly increase costs, he said. The county will have to hire teachers, instead of aides, perhaps buy more buses, and hire new administrators.

"I think we need some guidance," he said. "I think we need some time."

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