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A federal judge has ordered the District of Columbia school system to pay more than $700,000 in overdue bills from private providers of services for special-needs students.

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman told city officials this month that they were violating federal law by failing to reimburse private schools and therapists for special-education services not offered by the school system. The judge said the city's financial crisis--a severe budget shortfall that is expected to lead to closer federal control of city finances--was no excuse.

Also last week, the city suspended all sports practices temporarily after its insurance company canceled coverage because of an unpaid bill. District officials said they had sent a check for $85,000 to the company, and practices resumed before the week's end.

Pennsylvania Strike: Teachers in the 8,000-student Bristol, Pa., district went on strike last week after contract negotiations broke down. The 520-member Bristol Township Education Association had worked without a contract since September 1993. The union was seeking a 15 percent raise over five years and better health insurance. The strike was the district's first since 1973, said Superintendent Richard W. Reilly.

Parental Warning: A justice of the peace in Helena, Mont., has fined a mother and father $20 each for their daughter's chronic truancy, and promised to jail the couple one day for each of her future unexcused absences.

Wallace Jewell handed down the rulings earlier this month against Leon and Kathy Long, whose daughter attends Helena Middle School. According to court records, the girl has not been truant since then.

Before the sentence, the girl had missed 63 days, almost half the 1994-95 school year, and 23 of the absences were unexcused.

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