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The Labor Department is seeking public comment on how child-labor laws--which bar youths from some hazardous jobs--might have to be changed in light of new workplace requirements and the heightened emphasis on school-to-work transition programs in which students receive on-the-job training as part of their curriculum.

The comments were solicited in a notice published in the May 13 Federal Register. The notice also proposes to increase penalties for labor-law violations that result in the death or serious injury of a teen-ager. Comments on the proposals are due by Aug. 11.

In the same issue of the Federal Register, the department also announced that it would exempt batboys from child-labor rules limiting the time and number of hours 14- and 15-year-olds work.

Last year, a federal inspector found that a Georgia youth's employment with a minor-league baseball team violated the rules. Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich suspended enforcement until he could study the issue, and the result is the proposed new regulations, which also apply to similar "attendants'' in other sports.

The agency decided that the change would not have an "adverse effect'' on the youths' "health, well-being, or educational development,'' the proposal says.

The rules would only affect 14- and 15-year-olds, as younger children are barred from employment and older teen-agers are covered by less restrictive regulations. Comments are due by July 12.

Equal Access: The Justice Department has sided with a high school student who sued the San Diego school district after she was barred from forming a Christian club that would meet over lunch.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the agency says the district and a judge were wrong to conclude that the federal Equal Access Act and the U.S. Constitution bar religious clubs from meeting during the school day.

The Equal Access Act requires high schools receiving federal funds to allow student religious clubs if they have other non-curriculum-related clubs.

Officials at University City High School in San Diego had denied the student, Melanie Ceniceros, permission to form a Christian club during the 1992-93 school year. They said the federal law requires equal treatment for religious clubs only before and after the school day.

Ms. Ceniceros sued, arguing that the school allowed other groups to meet during lunch. A federal district judge sided with the district.

"Equal access should be provided whenever students have free time in schools,'' the Justice Department argues in its brief in Ceniceros v. Board of Trustees of the San Diego Unified School District.

Lunch Bill: After loosening a requirement that school cafeterias serve whole milk, the House Education and Labor Committee last week approved a bill to reauthorize the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition acts.

Health-advocacy groups have pushed Congress to eliminate the requirement, noting whole milk's fat content, but have been thwarted by dairy-state lawmakers.

The compromise, approved by voice vote, would require schools to base milk offerings on previous buying patterns. If a type of milk makes up less than 1 percent of sales in one year, the school would not have to offer it the next year.

The committee also approved, by a 26-to-15 vote, an amendment that would provide for an expanded pilot program to test the concept of "universal'' school meals. Schools where at least 30 percent of all students participating in the lunch program qualify for free or reduced-price meals could apply for funding to serve free meals to all students.

Another pilot program in the bill would serve snacks and meals to teenagers in after-school programs in high-poverty areas.

Spending Limits: The Senate appropriations subcommittee that has jurisdiction over education and social-service programs will have about $70 billion in discretionary budget authority to work with as it drafts a fiscal 1995 spending bill, the full Appropriations Committee decided last week.

That is the same amount allocated to its counterpart panel in the House. It is roughly $2.8 billion more than last year's allocation, but about $1.7 billion less than President Clinton included in his budget for those programs, said an aide to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate panel.

Appropriators are working under tight discretionary-spending caps imposed by the 1990 budget accord and made even tighter by a provision in the fiscal 1995 budget resolution. (See Education Week, May 18, 1994.)

Homelessness: The Clinton Administration last week released a report that calls for better coordination among agencies in alleviating homelessness.

The report was issued by the Interagency Council on the Homeless, which brought together staff members from 17 federal agencies, in response to an executive order.

It proposes consolidating programs under the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act to serve families flexibly and comprehensively. The plan also calls on agencies to make health, education, and social programs more accessible to the homeless.

Copies of "Priority: Home! The Federal Plan To Break the Cycle of Homelessness,'' are free from American Communities, P.O. Box 7189, Gaithersburg, Md. 20898-7189; (800) 998-9999.

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