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A federal appeals court has ruled, in the case of a deaf child from Kentucky, that the "appropriate education" guaranteed under federal law to handicapped children doesn't necessarily mean the best available.

A couple from Bullitt County had sued the county school board, claiming that their profoundly deaf son would be denied an "appropriate" education if he were removed from a school that teaches oral communication.

At the Bullitt County district's expense, the child had attended a school in nearby Jefferson County where the oral-communication method was used. When the Bullitt County board instituted its own program for hearing-impaired students and attempted to transfer the boy, his parents resisted, because they did not want their son influenced by the use of sign language in the new Bullitt County program.

In upholding a lower court's decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said that the existence of a program considered to be better by the boy's parents did not mean that the program offered by Bullitt County school officials was inappropriate.

Robert Fossett, attorney for the state department of education, said the court's ruling means the Bullitt County district is no longer financially responsible for the boy's tuition and transportation costs for the out-of-county school. He said the court weighed the county's "need to distribute scarce funds among as many children as possible" in making its decision.

Frank Hatfield, Bullitt County's superintendent, said the the decision is significant because it prevents competition between local school districts.

"You might always find something better but not the best," he said. "There might be a better program in Switzerland."

The case is Michael Age v. Bullitt County Board of Education.

Colleges whose only form of federal aid is in Guaranteed Student Loans will no longer be subject to the Education Department's regulations barring sex discrimination, Administration officials said last week.

Some 300 schools that receive no direct federal assistance will be affected by the change in policy, which came in papers filed by the Justice Department in Grove City College v. Bell, a court case involving a small Christian school in Pennsylvania. Administration officials said the policy would probably be extended to cover Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars racial discrimination.

However, colleges whose students receive Pell Grants--and schools that receive any direct federal subsidies--will continue to be subject to civil-rights regulations, the Justice Department said. The rationale for this was that Pell Grants, unlike the federally guaranteed loans, do not have to be paid back. Thus, government lawyers consider the grants to be financial assistance to institutions as well as to students.

The Justice Department's brief, filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, also alluded to the controversial question of whether civil-rights rules should cover entire institutions that receive federal funds or only the specific programs subsidized by the government.

The department "agrees that the regulations must be program-specific," the brief said, but it did not elaborate.

The Defense Department has informed Congress that it will not seek enactment of a new G.I. Bill this year because the government "cannot afford to spend one unnecessary dollar" for defense.

The original G.I. Bill of Rights expired in 1976. Since then the armed services have offered enlistees a Veterans Educational Assistance Program, under which participants contribute $1 for every $2 in benefits received from the military.

The Pentagon's announcement that it will not seek a new bill came during a joint meeting of the House armed-services and veterans committees on March 11. Lawrence J. Korb, assistant secretary of defense, told the committees that the military's recent success in recruiting volunteers for the armed services makes a new program of higher-education benefits for veterans unnecessary.

Late last January the General Accounting Office issued a report questioning the cost-effectiveness of a new G.I. Bill for veterans. The report recommended that Congress refrain from approving a permanent, non-contributory educational-assistance program until the Defense Department performed a comprehensive test to determine the most cost-effective mix of incentives needed to attract enough good recruits.

Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, who presides over a much-reduced federal education budget this year, is doing his bit to keep his professional travel costs down, according to the weekly magazine U.S. News & World Report.

Mr. Bell, unlike the other 12 members of the President's Cabinet, regularly travels in coach class when the requirements of his job take him out of town, according to an article in the March 15 issue.

Other high-ranking Administration officials routinely travel in first class, and some have chartered Air Force and Coast Guard jets or flown on the supersonic Concorde jet, in spite of a Presidential order to cut back travel expenses.

Secretary Bell's explanation for his willingness to eschew the trappings of officialdom: "I need to set an example."

Besides, he adds, "I'm a little squirt and can sit comfortably in a coach seat."

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