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Ill. School Barred From Team Science-Fair Prize

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An Illinois private school has been temporarily barred from competing for a prize that recognizes team accomplishment in an annual statewide science fair.

The decision involving the Avery Coonley School, an institution in the Chicago suburbs that enrolls only academically gifted students, has touched off widespread criticism that the restriction penalizes academic excellence.

By fielding the most individual entries judged "outstanding,'' the school has won the science fair's team award for the past four years.

But the Illinois Junior Academy of Science, a private organization of some 800 teachers from schools across the state that runs the annual science fair, announced immediately after Avery Coonley received its fourth team award this month that the school would not be eligible again until 1996.

In an action that is apparently unprecedented in the academy's 67-year history, officials announced that the organization's board had decided at its annual meeting in October that schools would no longer be allowed to win the team title more than three years in a row.

The ruling does not bar individual Avery Coonley students from entering next year's contest.

'More Equitable' Contest

The science academy's telephone went unanswered last week. But officials told the local media that the exclusion was designed to make the contest "more equitable.''

While a relative handful of entries from other competing schools advanced through local and regional competitions to the state finals, roughly 20 Avery Coonley students competed in the finals.

J. Gaston Favereau, the school's headmaster, said in an interview that he plans to appeal the ruling "as a matter of justice.''

Mr. Favereau said he has received letters and telephone calls of support from schools across the nation. He also noted that the controversy has even been discussed several times on the conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh's nationally syndicated talk-radio show.

One lawmaker, meanwhile, has introduced a resolution in the Illinois Senate asking the academy to reconsider its decision.

"With this policy change, the academy is promoting mediocrity instead of urging other schools to a higher standard,'' Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Republican, said.

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