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Federal File: Gun points

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Nine Republicans and two Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee have asked Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley some questions about his plans for implementing the new gun-free-schools law--perhaps renewing a rancorous debate.

The measure, which was contained in the recently reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act, requires districts to adopt a policy of expelling for one year students who bring weapons to school. Superintendents can make case-by-case exceptions.

During an October campaign appearance with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a key sponsor of the provision, President Clinton issued a memorandum that instructed Mr. Riley to "vigorously enforce" it. (See Education Week, 11/02/94.)

Most observers said the memorandum was drafted for political purposes and would have little practical effect. But the 11 House members said in a letter to Mr. Riley that they "feel that there are a number of significant issues raised by the implementation of this statute."

In particular, they said, an e.s.e.a. provision that addresses infractions by disabled students causes "disparities in treatment" and "alone could create an endless litany of litigation for local school districts."

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act had barred schools from suspending special-education students for more than 10 days. The law reauthorizing the e.s.e.a. allows, but does not require, a suspension of up to 45 days if such a student is caught with a weapon--as long as his action is not related to his disability.

In the letter, lawmakers noted that school officials will have to determine if a student's action is disability related, and wondered what criteria will be used.

They also asked what criteria superintendents will use to make case-by-case exceptions, whether noncompliant schools or districts will be subject to the loss of federal funds, and what guidance the Education Department will offer concerning the kinds of weapons that could be determined to prompt a year's expulsion should they be brought to school.

The letter was signed by Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who is expected to chair the Education and Labor Committee in the next Congress; Rep. Dick Armey, R-Tex., who is slated to be the House majority leader; Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont.; Rep. Jolene Unsoeld, D-Wash.; and seven other Republicans.

--Mark Pitsch

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