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Enrollment in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore's schools this fall increased by 3 percent over last year, reversing a nearly 20-year decline, officials announced last week.

This year, 31,978 students attend 100 elementary, middle, and high schools in the archdiocese. The enrollment figure tops the 1991 level of 31,042 and is the highest since 1988.

Archbishop William H. Keeler attributed the gains to "the increasing appeal of a values-centered education and the excellent academic record of our Catholic institutions.''

Enrollment increases occurred in eight counties that surround Baltimore, with the largest increase, 17.3 percent, recorded in Carroll County, Md., and the next largest, 12.1 percent, in Howard County, Md.

The September merger of two Catholic elementary schools in Baltimore contributed to an overall 0.4 percent enrollment decline in the city.

Prosecutors seeking information about priests who may have sexually abused minors do not have a right to confidential information kept by the Archdiocese of Chicago, a Cook County, Ill., judge has ruled.

Circuit Court Judge Thomas R. Fitzgerald ruled last month that records containing allegations of abuse that are being sought by the state's attorney for the county are confidential and are not subject to subpoena.

Prosecutors had subpoenaed files that the archdiocese maintains are protected under "pastoral privilege,'' said an archdiocesan source who did not want to be identified. The privilege is similar to the protection afforded conversations between a lawyer and a client or mental-health records, the source said.

Such protected information includes information or allegations about sexual abuse by priests that individuals or families have brought to the attention of archdiocesan officials, who were acting in a pastoral role, the source said.

A statement released by the archdiocese said officials there were "satisfied'' with the ruling.

"In particular,'' the statement continues, "the archdiocese appreciates Judge Fitzgerald's acknowledgment that the archdiocese acted responsibly in respecting the confidentiality of communications which are protected under the law.''

Prosecutors reportedly are planning to appeal.

Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez of the New York City public schools has denied a published report that he plans to leave his job next summer.

The Daily News, a tabloid newspaper in the city, reported in its Nov. 20 cover story that Mr. Fernandez had told an adviser he will likely leave his position in June, when his contract expires, largely because he is frustrated by poor relations with city hall and the city school board.

Mr. Fernandez responded to the report by issuing a press release that said he had had no official discussions with the board about renewing his contract and that he had "an open mind'' on the subject.

Contrary to the report, Mr. Fernandez characterized himself as having a good relationship with Mayor David N. Dinkins, whom he described as supportive of many of his major educational reforms.

The Columbus, Ohio, school board has rejected a student-assignment plan that critics said would have resegregated schools.

The board voted 5 to 2 last month to reject the plan. Introduced in September, it would have reduced the number of students bused for desegregation and allowed them to attend school closer to home.

Larry Mixon, the district's interim superintendent, was among those who urged the plan's rejection. He predicted it would have forced the board to spend about $5.5 million to modify buildings and another $1 million to reopen four schools.

Teachers in the District of Columbia have approved a new three-year contract that includes a pay raise and formally lengthens the school day by a half-hour.

Under the contract, approved last late month, teachers will receive an 11 percent pay boost over two years. However, the city council must approve the money for the raises, which are expected to cost $17 million to $19 million in the first year and more than $20 million in the second year.

The council refused to approve teacher raises for the current school year.

By approving the contract on a voice vote, the teachers agreed to the longer school day, which Superintendent Franklin L. Smith imposed at the beginning of the school year.

The pact also includes a provision for the establishment of a committee to discuss what form teacher evaluations should take.

The negotiations for the contract have lasted more than two years. Earlier this year, some teachers conducted a work-to-the-rule job action to protest the lack of progress in the talks.

A 15-year-old student has been charged with murder in the slaying of his classmate late last month in a Chicago high school.

The incident occurred at Edward Tilden High School, in the Canaryville section of the city. An argument over a dice game between Joseph White and a 13-year-old student in a hallway on Nov. 20 ended when Mr. White allegedly shot three students. DeLondyn Lawson, a 13-year-old bystander, was fatally wounded in the back and two other students were also wounded, one critically.

Mr. White was charged as an adult and last week was being held in jail without bond. The youth playing dice with him was also arrested for gambling on school grounds.

According to Hazel Stewart, the school's principal, the school staff periodically conducts unannounced security checks using metal detectors. The searches, which require at least 90 minutes and the help of 30 staff and community volunteers, would be impossible to carry out every day, she said.

"Even with two full-time policemen and seven security guards, it's not adequate for one weapons search.'' Ms. Stewart added.

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