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Officials of the Livingston, Calif., school district are at odds with members of the Sikh religion about whether students of that faith should be allowed to carry symbolic daggers, called kirpans, under their clothing.

District officials say the six-inch blades are weapons banned from school premises by district rules and state law. But representatives of the Sikh community in northern California say the dulled kirpans pose no threat because they are kept in their sheaths and usually are worn under clothing. They contend that the kirpans are religious symbols protected by the First Amendment's clause on free exercise of religion.

Superintendent Henry Escobar said about 10 percent of the district's students are natives of the Punjab region of India, where the Sikh faith, which combines Islamic and Hindu elements, predominates. Five students in elementary and middle schools recently were baptized in the faith and began carrying kirpans, he said.

"We took the position that, given the current problems of school violence, we would not allow the wearing of kirpans,'' he said.

The school board upheld the ban last month, but it may allow modified kirpans if they are smaller and secured in their sheaths, Mr. Escobar said.

School officials have suggested that the Sikh students wear religious medallions instead of the kirpans. Two of the Sikh students have begun wearing medallions; three are not attending school over the issue.

The Sikh community is considering plans for the modified kirpans, and the school board plans to take up the issue again at its March 8 meeting, Mr. Escobar said.

Allegations of Misspending: A recent audit of the Chicago schools' desegregation-monitoring commission alleges that the panel improperly spent half its budget on consultants who were either overpaid or were already under contract.

The school board is seeking reimbursement for the charges. Up to $179,000 was misspent, investigators say. The district has informed local prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the findings.

The entire commission was replaced last fall by school board officials who said the 15 member panel was getting little work done.

The internal audit found that the commission improperly hired district employees as consultants, changed purchase orders, and mischarged first-class airline fares, limousine rides, and hotel stays.

The panel was established to report to the school board on implementation of Chicago's court-ordered desegregation program.

Placement Ruling: An 11-year-old moderately retarded Sacramento, Calif., girl should be allowed to attend regular school classes, a federal appeals court has ruled.

Although the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit did not give specific instruction on Rachel Holland's placement, the judges last month unanimously upheld a lower court's finding that she could attend regular classes. She has been attending private school, and her individualized education program has not been reviewed since 1990.

The Sacramento district, which appealed the lower court's decision, must base future placement decisions on the standards established by the courts, the appeals court ruled.

Rachel had been in special-education classes for four years when her parents requested in 1989 that she be allowed to attend mainstream classes.

The district at that time ruled that such placement would be disruptive to other students, would cost too much money, and would not be beneficial to Rachel.

The courts found that the district had overstated the costs of mainstreaming Rachel. They also found that she would benefit educationally and socially from regular-class placement and that she would not affect the other students' opportunity to learn.

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