News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

October 22, 2003 2 min read
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Indian Education Office Given Higher Status

The Department of Education is elevating the status of the office that oversees American Indian educational issues, a move that a top administrator predicts will give tribal leaders across the country more influence in shaping federal policy affecting schools with heavily Indian populations.

The office of Indian education will now report directly to the undersecretary of education, the department announced Oct. 14. Previously, the office was housed within the office of elementary and secondary education.

Secretary of Education Rod Paige said the decision was meant to reflect the Indian education office’s importance in helping to implement the No Child Left Behind Act and other policies in predominantly Native American schools. Tribal leaders and Indian organizations had requested the change, Mr. Paige said in a statement.

Since its creation in 1972, before the existence of a separate federal Department of Education, the office of Indian education has been charged with supporting local education agencies and working with K-12 and postsecondary schools to help meet the needs of Indian students and tribal organizations. The office’s fiscal 2003 budget was $121.6 million.

Mr. Paige has the legal authority to make the change administratively as long as he gives notice to Congress, which he did earlier this year, said Victoria L. Vasquez, the director of the Indian education office, whose title will remain the same.

“It’s [about] listening to tribal leaders and making a commitment,” Ms. Vasquez said of the change. “The tribal leaders are working hard to understand No Child Left Behind.”

—Sean Cavanagh

Supreme Court to Hear Online-Protection Case

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed last week to take a second look at a federal law aimed at cracking down on commercial Web sites that make sexually explicit material available to minors.

In the latest twist in a complex, 5-year-old legal battle over the Child Online Protection Act, the justices on Oct. 14 agreed to review a federal appeals court ruling last year that struck down the law on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment right of free speech.

The law authorizes criminal and civil penalties for operators of commercial Web sites that make available obscene or sexually explicit material to children under 18.

This is the second time the statute has come before the high court. In June 2002, the justices vacated a ruling of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia, which had unanimously struck down the law two years earlier.

After reconsidering the statute under orders from the Supreme Court, the 3rd Circuit court in March again unanimously declared the statute unconstitutional. The appeals court ruled that the law would block the access of adults to Web content that has First Amendment protection.

In its appeal in Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union (Case No. 03-218), the Bush administration argues that the law is needed to shield children “from the harmful effects of the enormous amounts of pornography on the World Wide Web.”

But the ACLU, representing a range of online businesses, countered in court papers that the law “reaches millions of content providers who have no effective way to prevent minors from obtaining their speech without also deterring and burdening access by adults.”

—Caroline Hendrie


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