After Three Years, Ruling on Chapter 1 Still Making Waves
This month, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, N.C., public schools started lending portable computers to 75 students in two Roman Catholic schools and a Seventh-Day Adventist school.
The computers will "deliver" the federally mandated remedial instruction the students are entitled to--without a public-school teacher setting foot near a parochial-school building.
"It's an easier program for us to manage, it costs about the same, and there's no question about separation of church and state," said Robert R. Severs, director of funding and development for the school district.
It has been more than three years since the U.S. Supreme Court barred the use of federal funds to support Chapter 1 teachers in religiously affiliated schools. But public-school administrators are still searching for effective and acceptable ways to provide the instruction while complying with the constitutional prohibition against entanglement of government with religious institutions.
And private-school and public-school advocates are still at odds over the July 1985 decision in Aguilar v. Felton, which involved the remedial-education program in New York City.
At least half a dozen lawsuits, from New York to California, are challenging the use of public funds to pay for vans, mobile trailers--and computers--for instruction of private-school children.
And a group of parents in San Francisco is taking those efforts one step further, challenging the very constitutionality of the federal law that authorizes the remedial program, known as Chapter 1 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981.
In New York City, where the board of education and civil-liberties groups have been skirmishing for years over how to provide the remedial instruction, the battle is about to begin on another front.
In August, the board announced that it planned to lease property on the playgrounds of three Catholic schools and build permanent structures resembling construction trailers for the remedial classes.
"We are trying to provide services to children, and we are doing what we can under federal guidelines," said Robert Terte, a spokesman for the board. He said the board expects a court challenge over the leasing plan.
Stanley Geller, a lawyer for the Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty, the group that brought the Felton suit, said the plan is unconstitutional.
"If it violates the Constitution to send a teacher into a parochial school, then it certainly violates the Constitution to send a teacher and a little building over," Mr. Geller said. He said that perl may seek a summary judgement to stop the rental plan.
In the last school year, the city received a total of $198.7 million in Chapter 1 funds, and about $26.7 million went for services to private schools, according to board figures.
Children from nearly 240 private schools in the city are eligible for Chapter 1 services, Mr. Terte said. The city provides remedial classes at nearby public schools, in mobile vans, at "neutral" leased sites, and via computers controlled centrally by board staff members.
Perl is challenging these arrangements in a suit still pending in federal court. The group contends that the funds spent on vans or leasing of sites is taken "off the top," before funds are distributed between public and private schools on a per-capita basis.
According to Mr. Geller, the only permissible way for parochial-school students to receive remedial services is to come to the public schools for the classes, and take the classes with public-school students, not separately.
Another group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is financing five lawsuits--in San Francisco, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Missouri.
The San Francisco case, originally filed in 1986, was expanded last year to charge that the federal requirement that children in church-affiliated schools receive remedial services is, in and of itself, a violation of the First Amendment's ban on state establishment of religion.
That case is still pending in federal district court.
Lessons Via Computer
Mr. Geller's group is also challenging what is fast becoming the most popular way to deliver services--computer-aided remedial instruction.
Last year, 24 private schools in New York City opted for computer-aided instruction, according to board figures. By the end of this month, another 26 schools will also be using computers; 24 others have requested computers.
The computers are located in the private schools and the board controls their operation centrally. The city also pays for a technician to keep order in each Chapter 1 classroom and to "turn the computers on and off," Mr. Terte said. The technician is not permitted to provide instruction, he noted.
Mr. Geller contended that even without a teacher in the classroom, parochial schools "can use whatever is transmitted [via computer] for religious purposes."
But it may be several years before perl's challenge winds its way through the courts.
Meanwhile, more and more districts around the country are using computer-aided instruction, often at the request of the private schools.
In Winston-Salem, students at the three religious schools previously did not get remedial instruction every day because there were not enough vans, said Mr. Severs. "The schools weren't happy; they asked for the computerized program," he added.
Under Winston-Salem's plan, students take the computers home and are provided with workbooks and other materials. The computers and materials cost about $60,000, Mr. Severs said.
The district does not use computer-aided instruction in Chapter 1 instruction for its own students, for which it receives $2.8 million.
A survey last year by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 10 percent of districts offered remedial instruction to private-school pupils via television or computer hook-ups.
'Our Program Collapsed'
Before the Supreme Court ruling, most districts sent teachers directly to private schools to teach remedial classes. After the ruling, those districts had to revamp their programs entirely. The revisions usually involved talks with each school or church system receiving the services, school officials say.
"After Felton, our whole program just collapsed," said the Rev. Lawrence Caruso, associate superintendent of schools in the Los Angeles Roman Catholic archdiocese. Teachers' aides paid by the public schools had worked inside the church schools providing remedial reading and mathematics instruction.
Now, the archdiocese, after negotiating separately with the nearly 40 public-school districts that it spans, has assembled a patchwork of services for its students who qualify.
The instruction is "delivered" primarily in classroom-equipped vans that pull up to the curb outside parochial schools several times a week, or mobile trailers parked on church property that is leased to the local school district.
In some cases, parochial-school children are sent to the nearest public school on foot or by bus. And in a few cases, the children are instructed by computer.
"After three years, it seems to be working fine, though there are some problems," Father Caruso said.
Problems Affecting Enrollments
Nicholas J. Penning, a legislative specialist for the American Associel15lation of School Administrators, conducted an informal survey last year of how well districts around the country were dealing with the dilemma.
"The impression we got was that at first it was difficult, but districts have managed to work out ways to serve these kids," Mr. Penning said.
The U.S. Education Department survey last year found that the number of private-school students receiving instruction had dropped since the Felton ruling. In the 1984-85 school year, 180,700 private-school students were enrolled in Chapter 1 instruction. The figure in 1986 was about 130,600.
"We're definitely not reaching as many students as before," said William R. Rubalcava, supervisor of educational evaluation and compliance for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "When teachers were in the classrooms, it was easier to reach children. Now, even though they may be next door in a mobile unit, it takes more time out of the day for children."
In Los Angeles, the city school system has leased neutral sites for the 61 "relocatable classrooms" that are never relocated, Mr. Rubalcava said. The district receives about $3.5 million in Chapter 1 funds for about 9,000 private-school students, and $80 million for its own students.
Although Los Angeles is not facing any legal challenges on its Chapter 1 program, Mr. Rubalcava said he was watching other lawsuits around the country.
"I'd like to see this adjudicated so we can get it settled once and for all," he said.