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New York Schools Get 1-Year Stay In Felton Case

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A federal district judge in Brooklyn has given the New York City Board of Education until the 1986-87 school year to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision barring Chapter 1 compensatory-education teachers from private-school classrooms.

The delay, signed by U.S. District Judge Edward R. Neaher late last month and released last week, applies only to New York City. Its effect on other large cities struggling with the administrative problems caused by the High Court's decision in Aguilar v. Felton is unclear.

"None of us see this as precedent-setting in terms of giving us a delay," said Thomas C. Rosica, executive director of categorical programs for the Philadelphia school district. But the decision does bolster hopes that big cities can win a delay, he said.

U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, who has been sued by a lobbying group for advocating a one-year postponement in the implementation of Felton, called the district court's decision "a victory for common sense." Justice Department lawyers had joined the city in arguing for more time.

Besides the one-year stay, Judge Neaher, who in 1983 upheld the legality of New York's Chapter 1 program, ordered officials to report every 60 days on their progress toward devising new ways of serving Chapter 1 students in religious schools.

Local Reactions

Florence Flast, chairman of the New York State chapter of the group Public Education and Religious Liberty (pearl), called the one-year delay "uncalled-for and unnecessary."

Ms. Flast's organization, initiator of the successful court challenge to the Chapter 1 program, had asked Judge Neaher to require New York districts to implement Felton within 30 days.

Nathan Quinones, the New York City schools chancellor, said, "We are pleased that the court has decided to permit us the time to redesign the Chapter 1 program so that we can continue to provide these badly needed remediation services for all eligible children in New York City."

In Felton, the Court affirmed a4July 1984 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which reversed Judge Neaher and ordered that New York schools be "afforded enough time" to devise a new program for serving religious-school students.

The question of when the ruling would be implemented then reverted to Judge Neaher in the Eastern District of New York.

Because Chapter 1 aid to private schools is mandated by the Congress, school districts that had administered programs on private-school grounds--the most common method of providing the aid--have been scrambling to find alternatives in the wake of the Felton decision.

Related Action

The Council of Great City Schools, a coalition of 35 urban districts, is considering legislative and judicial avenues to gain some relief, according to Michael Casserly, a legislative associate with the council.

Several big urban districts are reportedly considering seeking a one-year delay based on the New York decision. These include Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, according to sources.

The council is exploring whether the courts or the Congress can order a one-year moratorium on federal audits of Chapter 1 programs at odds with Education Department guidelines instructing states to comply with Felton, according to Mr. Casserly.

He said he has held discussions with Americans United for Separation of Church and State--the group that sued Mr. Bennett--about adding such a provision to one of the lawsuits pending against the Secretary.

Barring such action, the Education Department will "continue our usual audit practices," said Lon Anderson, a spokesman. "It has never been our purpose to invite circumvention of the law."

Meanwhile, Americans United has asked a federal judge in Louisville, Ky., to order immediate nationwide implementation of Felton.

A spokesman for the organization, Joseph L. Conn, said he did not think the decision in New York would have "much effect" on its legal actions because the "fact situations are entirely different."

Mr. Bennett, in a prepared statement, commented, "The decision should put to rest specious claims that the department was somehow acting improperly to block implementation of the Felton decision."

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