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Baltimore Chapter 1 Survey Sparks Inquiry

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A survey form used by the Baltimore City Public Schools to determine the eligibility of young children for Chapter 1 services may violate federal regulations because it requests intimate family data that do not directly relate to a child's educational need, according to a U.S. Education Department official.

Among other things, the questionnaire asks parents of preschool- or kindergarten-aged children to state the amount and source of the family's income, whether anyone in the family is chronically ill or receiving psychological services, and if any family member has ever been incarcerated or been identified as delinquent.

"Using indicators that do not deal directly with a child's educational need is a violation of program regulations," said Mary Jean LeTendre, ed's director of compensatory programs.

"There may be items on the questionnaire that are appropriate indicators," she said, "but certainly a number of them are not appropriate for the selection of children on the basis of their individual needs."

Such items, Ms. LeTendre states in an Oct. 28 letter to Ronald E. Friend, chief of compensatory education for the State of Maryland, "may not be used as criteria for the selection of individual children for Chapter 1 assistance."

In the letter, she requested that the state respond to ed within 30 days to report on "actions taken to ensure" that the program's regulations are being met.

Ms. LeTendre said she found out about the use of the inappropriate questions from a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, who was investigating the district's use of the questionnaire.

Under Chapter 1 guidelines, districts must determine which schools are eligible for the compensatory aid based on a certain concentration of poverty within their attendance areas. They must then identify educationally deprived children within those eligibility areas and make sure those with the greatest educational need are served.

Mr. Friend was not available for comment last week. But Richard J. Steinke, acting assistant state superintendent in the division of special education and support services, said the three questions that sparked the controversy were added this year to a 10-question survey that the district had been using for several years. That questionnaire, he said, had been prepared with the help of the federal government.

The three new questions, he said, were added by the district "without the state's advice."

"We do not agree that these questions were needed," he said. "We have already made a commitment to re-examine [Baltimore's screening procedure] and were in the process of doing so when this arose.

"We will be corresponding with the Education Department on this matter in the very near future," Mr. Steinke added.

Ellen G. Oberfeleer, a spokesman for the city schools, said the additional questions were added by an official who is no longer with the school system "to strengthen the educational-need data."--br

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