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Payzant Criticized for Policy Limiting Boy Scout Programs

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WASHINGTON--Conservative Republicans on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee this month grilled Thomas W. Payzant, President Clinton's choice to be assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, about his treatment of the Boy Scouts and other controversies during his 20-year career as a school superintendent.

The senators zeroed in on his partial ban on the Boy Scouts because of their discrimination against homosexuals and his handling of a child-abuse allegation against a teacher.

Still, the questioning by Daniel R. Coats, R-Ind., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H., had a perfunctory tone, and committee aides from both parties predicted Mr. Payzant would be confirmed. At the hearing, one of the panel's moderate Republicans joined Democrats in praising the nominee.

The senators pressed for the hearing after the Traditional Values Coalition mounted a campaign against Mr. Payzant.

The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, the coalition's chairman, alleged in a statement that Mr. Payzant "subscribes to the philosophy of liberal special interests while ignoring the concerns of parents.''

"If he makes it to the Department of Education,'' Mr. Sheldon said, "he will further his reign of social terror at the expense of America's children.''

The coalition has focused on Mr. Payzant's recommendation as superintendent in San Diego to ban the Boy Scouts from conducting programs during school hours, while allowing after-school activities to continue. The school board agreed that the group's exclusion of homosexuals conflicted with the district's civil-rights policies.

"It's pretty obvious this Administration doesn't have much use for the Boy Scouts,'' Mr. Gregg said.

Mr. Payzant described the circumstances under which the ban was adopted, and assured Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., that he has "many more reservations'' about curricula that include homosexual viewpoints.

During the hearing, Mr. Payzant said the only program in the district relating to gay students is sensitivity training for staff members.

Mr. Sheldon's group had asserted that Mr. Payzant had implemented a counseling program in San Diego called Project 10, which the group calls "a pro-homosexual curriculum.''

Indictment Revealed

Senators Gregg and Coats also questioned the nominee about his indictment in 1977, while he was superintendent in Eugene, Ore., for failing to report an allegation that a teacher had sexually abused a student.

Mr. Payzant said that at the time he did not know a state law required that such charges be reported immediately to law-enforcement authorities, and that the school district's lawyer failed to tell him. He said he immediately launched an internal investigation and later cooperated with police.

The indictment against Mr. Payzant was dismissed by a judge, and the teacher was eventually acquitted.

Mr. Coats asked why a grand jury handed down an indictment "if there was no basis for it.'' He and Mr. Gregg did not challenge Mr. Payzant's explanation.

Rising to the nominee's defense, Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the committee chairman, said, "I think it is reprehensible to use this unfortunate episode to challenge your qualifications.''

"To recap, you're glad you were a Scout, and you're glad your children were Scouts,'' Mr. Kennedy said, drawing laughter from Mr. Payzant and the audience.

"Hey, I apologize for this, but that's the way it goes,'' Mr. Kennedy added with a shrug.

Mr. Gregg also asked Mr. Payzant about the conservative advocacy group's assertion that he had proposed eliminating F grades and automatically promoting all elementary school students.

He said he proposed giving students who failed a course no grade and allowing them to retake it; the school board opted to retain the F grade but to give students a chance to improve the failing mark.

Mr. Payzant said the district's policy is to consult with parents before a decision is made, but students are not automatically promoted.

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