Federal File: The Art of Politics; For Official Use Only?

May 16, 1984 2 min read

Students at a Portland, Ore., high school for the performing arts received a lesson in the fine art of politics last week following their principal’s decision to call off a visit by Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell and a Republican candidate for the state legislature.

Nathan Jones, the principal of Jefferson High School, said one of the reasons for the cancellation of the May 7 appearance by Mr. Bell and the candidate--whom he declined to name--was that it would have coincided with a performance at the school by the Dance Theatre of Harlem, a major American ballet troupe.

But of equal importance, he said, were demands by the would-be legislator that would have given the visit a distinctly partisan air.

“A local politician stopped by last week and asked how would we like it if Ted Bell stopped by,” recounted Mr. Jones. “Naturally, I said, ‘Great,’ because I thought there’d be no strings attached. Then the trouble started.”

First, he said, organizers of the politician’s campaign insisted on scheduling Mr. Bell’s visit for 2 P.M., the same hour that the dance group was scheduled to perform. The performance had been planned for more than a year.

“Then, they said they wanted to shoot pictures of me, the district superintendent, Mr. Bell, and the candidate shaking hands,” Mr. Jones continued. “Not only that, but they wanted us to set up and videotape a forum with him and students and staff in our television studio.

“I said, ‘No way’ because there are three other candidates, all Democrats, running for the same office,” he added. “I felt they were putting this together to make it seem like an endorsement, and that’s something I certainly did not want to buy into.”

Mr. Jones said that, in the spirit of compromise, he invited Mr. Bell and the candidate to attend the ballet performance. The offer was declined.

“Mr. Bell never sent his regrets, but I don’t think he was aware of all these goings-on,” Mr. Jones said. “The whole thing was organized by the local party officials.”

An Education Department official denied allegations last week that department employees are being denied access to materials stemming from a set of controversial hearings on a 1978 law that has become a rallying point for parents and others concerned about the use of “values-clarification” and other psychological techniques in public schools.

According to an employee who requested anonymity, the department has been turning down requests by some of its workers to examine the transcripts of testimony given during eight regional hearings held across the country on proposed regulations for a law known as the Hatch Amendment, which governs psychological testing of students.

Monika Harrison, special advisor to the department’s deputy undersecretary for management, strongly denied those allegations, adding that access to the 1,800 pages of testimony is being denied to no one.


A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 1984 edition of Education Week as Federal File: The Art of Politics; For Official Use Only?