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The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fall River, Mass., has reached an out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit involving 68 men and women who say they were molested as children by a priest who worked there.

The financial terms of the settlement, announced Dec. 3, were not revealed, but they are believed to exceed $20,000 per person. Published reports put the individual payments at $50,000 to $80,000, for a total settlement of between $3.4 million and $5.4 million.

The abuse allegedly occurred between 1956 and 1967 when the individuals were ages 8 to 13 and James Porter was a seminarian and priest in Fall River, said Matthew McNamara, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Mr. Porter, who left the priesthood, is now married and lives in Minnesota, where he is facing more recent criminal charges of sexual misconduct.

Mr. Porter has also been charged in a 46-count criminal indictment in Bristol County, Mass., involving alleged child abuse of 32 individuals, many of whom are included in the group of 68, Mr. McNamara said.

The agreement with the diocese "would not have occurred had there not been major progress made'' in persuading it to institute a policy on handling allegations of sexual abuse by clergy or diocesan employees, Mr. McNamara said.

In a statement, Bishop Sean O'Malley said that "the diocese has committed itself to an open and fair policy in cases of reported sexual abuse and is establishing a written policy in these matters.''

He said he hoped "that this agreement brings comfort and healing'' to the victims.

Prosecutors in a Maryland county have decided not to indict an elementary school principal on charges of being a drug "kingpin.''

Patricia Ann Emory, the principal of Severna Park Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, had been arrested last month along with her husband and eight others after police reported seizing nearly 500 pounds of marijuana and $10,000 in cash from the Emory home and other residences. The Emorys were charged under the county's drug-kingpin statute.

A grand jury last week indicted Mr. Emory and five of the eight others, but prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to indict Ms. Emory.

Last week, Mr. Emory was being held without bail in Anne Arundel County jail.

The principal, who has been on administrative leave without pay, is seeking to return to her job.

Prosecutors said the investigation of the alleged drug ring would continue.

The Amherst-Pelham (Mass.) Regional School District was accused in a suit filed last week of violating its students' civil rights by grouping them by ability.

The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed the suit in U.S. District Court with the help of its national headquarters.

The suit charges that the ability-grouping system used by the district's junior and senior high schools places disproportionate numbers of minority students in classes for the least talented.

As a result, the suit claims, the minority students are deprived of access to about half of the district's course offerings, in violation of their rights under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and various federal civil-rights laws.

District officials assert, however, that ability grouping is necessary in the district, which enrolls large numbers of language-minority students with special needs.

Moreover, they say, parents have the ultimate authority over where their children are placed and can override the recommendations of teachers.

The Western Massachusetts Regional Education Center concluded in a 1991 report examining the district that students of color are almost twice as likely as white students to be found in basic and ungrouped courses. White students, on the other hand, are almost twice as likely to be enrolled in advanced courses, the report said.

At the request of principals from some of its most competitive high schools, the Fairfax County, Va., school board has voted to allow some schools to stop ranking students according to their grade-point averages.

The principals argued that, in schools where a majority of students have grade-point averages of 3.0 or better, class rank becomes an unfair gauge of students' academic abilities.

The principal of one such school, Langley High School, told the board that 27 of his students had grade-point averages of 3.1. When the averages were carried out to the thousandth decimal place, some fell in the top half of the class and some in the bottom half. Class rank is one measure that college admissions officers consider in reviewing students' applications.

Principals, parents, and students also told the board that competition for high grade-point averages has become so fierce that some students cheat, while others load up on Advanced Placement courses for which they get a slightly higher credit for their grades.

The board's action permits three high schools to end class ranking immediately and allows others to do the same, with board approval.

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