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Court Backs Remedial Classes at Religious School

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A federal appeals court has ruled that the San Francisco school district may hold federally financed remedial classes in mobile classrooms on the grounds of religious schools.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit also upheld last month a program under which the district lends equipment such as computers and library books to sectarian schools.

The district's services under the federal Title I and Chapter 2 education programs were challenged in a lawsuit backed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The Washington-based organization has long argued that providing Title I instruction on the premises of religious schools is an unconstitutional government establishment of religion.

Districts have struggled with ways to provide remedial education to eligible students who attend religious schools since a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling banned public school teachers from holding classes at such schools.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit court ruled unanimously on Jan. 30 in Walker v. San Francisco Unified School District that placing mobile classrooms on the grounds of religious schools does not violate the First Amendment's establishment-of-religion clause.

The ruling is consistent with a 1991 opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. (See Education Week, May 29, 1991.)

Split on Equipment

The panel split 2 to 1 on the issue of providing equipment to religious schools under Chapter 2, which is a general federal grant program now known as the Innovative Education Program Strategies State Grants

The majority noted that the Supreme Court has upheld the provision of textbooks to religious school students, yet has struck down programs that gave private schools equipment that could be converted to religious use.

But with more recent rulings on aid to private religious schools, the High Court has "rendered untenable the thin distinction between textbooks and other instructional materials," said the majority opinion by U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Tang.

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