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The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service has agreed to respond by April 15 to California education officials' allegation that it is illegal to require Social Security numbers on students' applications for free and reduced-price lunches.

The agreement comes in the wake of a directive sent by Wilson C. Riles, California's superintendent of public instruction, ordering local school districts not to deny poor children free or reduced-price meals solely because their applications lack the Social Security numbers.

Mr. Riles maintains that the disclosure of parents' Social Security numbers may violate federal laws protecting the privacy of families.

The requirement, Mr. Riles said in a statement issued by his office, raises "serious civil-liberties questions" and "presents an extreme and unnecessary administrative burden on our already-overburdened school districts."

usda had requested that California comply with the requirement by March 15.

The requirement for Social Security numbers could affect the eligibility of 1.2 million California schoolchildren who are now receiving free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Act, according to a spokesman for the state education department.

An analysis of the requirement by the department's lawyers suggests that it could violate the Privacy Act because the reason for requesting the numbers is not made clear to those who are being asked to provide them--parents and other adults with whom the children live.

According to the Agriculture Department, the Social Security numbers currently are being held by school districts until regulations are issued on their use.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has asked the U.S. Attorney General to rule on the "wisdom and constitutionality" of a Senate-passed bill that could virtually end the use of mandatory busing to achieve school desegregation.

Peter W. Rodino Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, wrote to the Speaker of the House on March 17, requesting that the bill be sent to his committee for "a full hearing and serious study," but refusing to permit a vote on the bill until he receives an opinion from the Justice Department.

The bill, S 951, contains three amendments that would prohibit the Justice Department from seeking busing orders; permit the courts to overturn existing busing orders; and forbid federal courts from ordering the busing of students beyond a short distance from a "neighborhood" school.

Representative Rodino's letter states that although a Judiciary subcommittee had conducted a series of hearings on other anti-busing bills, "the Justice Department has to date refused to provide its views. It would be most imprudent for us to move on S 951 without those views.''

In particular, the possibility of restricting the jurisdiction of the federal courts "is of such a magnitude that many responsible scholars with a variety of ideological backgrounds and party affiliations have been heard to sound serious warnings," the letter said.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to review an appellate-court decision that held the state of Ohio partially liable for past segregation in the Cleveland and Columbus public schools.

The Court's decision leaves intact rulings by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and means that the state will have to bear half of the cost of desegregating the two systems. Both cities have been under busing orders since the late 1970's.

State officials had reason to know during the 1960's and early 1970's that schools in the two cities were illegally segregated, the Sixth Circuit found last October. But the state failed to take action to remedy the problems and continued to give financial support to the districts.

But the amount of money involved may be the subject of another long dispute, according to Roger J. Lulow, assistant superintendent for the state department of education. And, he said, there are questions about which costs can legitimately be attributed to desegregation.

The state controlling board, which oversees school finances, has already decided to appeal a federal district judge's order that the state pay $4.4 million for buses purchased by the Cleveland schools for desegregation.

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