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A new Mississippi law mandating that public schools allow "voluntary'' student prayer at school events has been challenged in a federal lawsuit backed by the Mississippi Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way.

The law, which became effective July 1, requires schools to allow "nonsectarian, nonproselytizing'' student prayer at assemblies, sports events, and graduations, regardless of whether the events are compulsory. The law passed after a statewide debate over a Jackson high school principal who was disciplined for allowing students to read prayers over the intercom last fall. (See Education Week, Feb. 23, 1994.)

Meanwhile, a drive to put a ballot initiative about school prayer before District of Columbia voters has fallen short. The initiative was a subject of intense debate among many church groups and civil-liberties organizations in the nation's capital. (See Education Week, April 27, 1994.)

Organizers acknowledged that the 18,000 signatures they gathered were not enough to survive verification procedures by the city government.

Charter-School Approval: The Colorado state board of education has voted to approve the charter-school application of two Denver teachers, despite strong objections from Denver school officials.

The state board's unanimous action last month marks its first exercise of authority under a state charter-school law to grant an application that has been denied by a local school district. Education observers in the state had predicted that the provision would lead to conflict between the state board and local districts over who should decide whether charters are granted. (See Education Week, June 1, 1994.)

The Denver school board twice had rejected the teachers' application for the Thurgood Marshall charter school, which would emphasize tough academics and mandatory bilingual education.

Denver officials said the proposed school was too expensive and did not have firm site plans. They also argued that the state board was overstepping its authority in approving the charter on appeal.

Denver officials have indicated that they are considering suing the state board over the appeals provision of the state law.

Union Chief Ousted: In an unusual court-ordered, federally supervised election, District of Columbia teachers have ousted their union president.

Jimmie C. Jackson narrowly lost the presidency of the Washington Teachers Union to a retired teacher, Barbara A. Bullock, in an election last month.

Ms. Jackson had taken office a year ago through elections that were later declared invalid because of widespread irregularities, such as the omission of candidates' names from the ballot.

The union's parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers, spent months trying to persuade its affiliate to have new a new vote. The A.F.T. obtained a U.S. District Court ruling that ordered the local union to have new elections supervised by the U.S. Labor Department. (See Education Week, May 4, 1994.)

Ms. Jackson last month denounced the new election as invalid, alleging that her opponent was not a dues-paying union member. The Labor Department had certified Ms. Bullock's candidacy.

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