Court Curbs Schools From Providing Chapter 1 Aid on Church Grounds

By Mark Walsh — January 15, 1992 2 min read

School districts that lease church buildings or place mobile classrooms on church grounds to provide federal remedial-education services to pupils in religious schools violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban against government establishment of religion, a federal judge has ruled.

The Dec. 31 ruling by U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick of San Francisco is the latest in a series of rulings nationwide arising from districts’ attempts to fulfill their legal obligation to provide Chapter 1 services to pupils in religious schools.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that public-school teachers could not be sent to religions schools to provide Chapter 1 lessons, public- and religions-school officials have struggled to devise permissible ways to serve pupils who are eligible for the federal remedial program.

Last May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that mobile-classroom vans could be parked on church property for Chapter 1 classes, saying they were “religiously neutral” under the proper circumstances. (See Education Week, May 29, 1991 .)

Judge Orrick’s ruling came in a case brought by a group of California taxpayers against the San Francisco Unified School District, the California Department of Education and its top officials, the U.S. Secretary of Education, and the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco.

The group, backed by the national advocacy organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State, challenged the San Francisco district’s delivery of Chapter 1 services to pupils in Catholic schools.

Mobile Classrooms

In ruling on other aspects of the case last April, Judge Orrick held it was constitutional to park mobile-classroom vans on public property or property adjacent to a church school. But he also suggested then that placing vans on church property would violate the constitutional ban on government establishment of religion. (See Education Week, April 10, 1991.)

The judge’s Dec. 31 opinion formally declared that parking mobile classrooms on church property violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The judge said he “respectfully disagreed” with the Eighth Circuit panel’s ruling to the contrary. The San Francisco court is not within that circuit’s jurisdiction.

The presence of public-school mobile classrooms on church-school grounds creates a “symbolic union” between the government and the church, Judge Orrick said.

Leasing Space

Judge Orrick also ruled for the plaintiffs on the issue of leasing church-owned space to provide Chapter 1 services, even though San Francisco school officials told him they no longer lease such space from the Archdiocese.

The judge said such leasing of church space to hold Chapter 1 classes was unconstitutional because it is similar enough to the practice of providing teachers “on the premises” of sectarian schools, which was barred by the Supreme Court in the 1985 case, Aguilar v. Felton.

Junius Camp, who directs Chapter 1 services for the San Francisco district, said officials would consider changes at four religious schools where mobile-classroom vans were parked on church grounds.

Most other Chapter 1 mobile units were parked on public property near the church schools and would not be affected by the ruling, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the January 15, 1992 edition of Education Week as Court Curbs Schools From Providing Chapter 1 Aid on Church Grounds