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Schools are required only to provide "reasonable care" to protect student athletes from injury, New York's highest court has declared.

In a closely watched case, the Court of Appeals this month overturned a jury award of $878,000 to a high-school athlete injured in a 1983 football game.

The court invalidated decisions by two lower courts in favor of Sixto Ramon Benitez, who sustained a severe neck injury while playing for George Washington High School in Manhattan.

The case centered on a 1982 decision by New York City school officials to move the school to the top division of interscholastic athletic competition. Washington High officials had opposed the move, warning that their students could be injured if forced to compete against more formidable opposition from schools with larger enrollments.

Mr. Benitez was injured in a game against an upper-division team. By requiring the student to compete in a potentially dangerous situation, district officials had failed to provide him adequate protection, said Robert Sullivan, his lawyer.

District officials, backed by the state high-school athletic association, argued that the jury's verdict, if upheld, would expose sports programs to a wave of lawsuits by greatly raising the standard of care required from schools.

Arkansas education officials have announced their opposition to what they say is the first attempt in the state by residents of a recently merged district to undo the consolidation.

The action proposed by the St. Francis County board of education raises serious concerns about racial segregation and the quality of education that two separate districts could offer, state officials said.

The Wheatley and Palestine districts were merged in 1987, forming a system that serves 726 students. The district received $262,000 from a state program designed to encourage small districts to consolidate in order to meet minimumeducation standards.

State officials have threatened to challenge the partition of the district in court, and to demand return of the state payment, if voters approve the move in an election scheduled for this fall.

School districts must make reasonable changes in their instructional staff so that senior teachers who have been laid off can be hired back first, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled.

The ruling this month was the first time a Minnesota court had been asked to decide whether seniority rights applied in reinstatement cases, said Judge Thomas Kalitowski.

But the court noted that "realignment" of school staff might in some cases conflict with a district's need for flexibility, and said that teachers' rights to such changes are "not absolute."

The case arose when a social-studies teacher in La Crescent sought to regain his position after being laid off.

The Court of Appeals ruling overturned a lower court's decision that said that staff realignments would create undue burdens on districts.

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