Many Religious-School Students Not Yet Receiving Chapter 1 Aid

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Washington--Tens of thousands of religious-school students have not yet received any Chapter 1 instruction this year because, say public- and religious-school officials, they have been unable to resolve the dilemma posed by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Aguilar v. Felton.

Federal law and Education Department guidelines require that public- and private-school students receive "equitable" Chapter 1 remedial instruction.

But the Justices held in Felton--which barred Chapter 1 teachers from religious-school classrooms--that the widely used on-site method of providing the services unconstitutionally linked church and state.

The Felton decision continues to cause upheaval and uncertainty not only in the Chapter 1 effort but in other education programs not directly addressed by the ruling, interviews and national surveys indicate.

Religious-school officials have expressed concern that because of the decision, states will move to end all federal aid--including special-education aid, Chapter 2 block grants, and bilingual-education aid--provided on the premises of their institutions.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in New Jersey has granted officials in that state a one-year delay in implementing the decision--the first such stay since New York City won a similar delay in September. Pennsylvania also intends to seek a year's delay, according to officials there.

According to Richard F. Duffy, representative for federal education assistance for the U.S. Catholic Conference, more than 100,000 religious-school students, concentrated in the nation's largest school districts, have not received any Chapter 1 instructional aid this fall.

Early in the school year, however, districts had stretched out the period for diagnostic testing, which is permitted on premises, in an effort to buy time before confronting the question of how the remedial instruction would be provided.

Generally, Mr. Duffy said, "public-school Chapter 1 kids are receiving services and Catholic-school kids are not." He suggested that local religious-school officials would begin to file formal complaints in coming weeks if they remained dissatisfied with efforts by local education agencies.

Mr. Duffy said religious-school students have not received Chapter 1 instruction in Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Seattle, among others.

"Public schools in the cities are working vigorously within the constraints left by the decision," asserted Michael Casserly, legislative associate with the Council of Great City Schools, a coalition of the 35 biggest school districts.

The $3.7-billion Chapter 1 program, the largest federal precollegiate-aid effort, last year served about 4.57 million pupils, nearly 200,000 of whom attend private schools.

"We are aware that problems exist in several areas of the Chapter 1 program," said Undersecretary of Education Gary L. Bauer in a prepared statement. "In all instances, we will continue to insist that state and local agencies comply with the Chapter 1 requirement that equitable services to private-school children be provided."

He did not say how the department would enforce the requirement.

Obstacles Seen

One obstacle to resolving the problem is that diocesan education officials have generally opposed districts' proposals to teach their students in public schools or neutral sites.

The officials, citing pupils' safety and the disruption during the school day, dispute that their students can receive "equitable" services at a neutral site or a public school--no matter how short the distance between their schools and the chosen site.

If religious-school officials "reject a plan because they don't want their kids walking down the block, then there isn't much the public schools can do about it," said Mr. Casserly.

Public-school officials, on the other hand, have expressed concern about the prohibitive cost and administrative problems--such as insurance and parking--of vans or mobile classrooms, the other main means being considered for teaching the religious-school pupils.

Officials in Pittsburgh, who may purchase mobile classrooms, would have to pay $250,000 for nine vans, according to Sara D. Williams, director of Chapter 1 programs there.

Moreover, a federal lawsuit filed in Washington by an advocacy group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has challenged the constitutionality of districts' purchase of vans exclusively for use by religious-school students.

The Council of Great City Schools may also turn to the courts--possibly by joining the Americans United suit--to try to gain a one-year delay for its members who need more time, according to Mr. Casserly.

Districts Struggling

In Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest school district, Catholic-school officials have rejected several Chapter 1 plans proposed by public-school administrators, according to The Rev. Gerald B. Fessard, associate superintendent for elementary schools for the archdiocese of Los Angeles.

The district last year taught about 11,800 students in diocesan-affiliated schools, according to Father Fessard. But this year, he said, "there are no instructional services going on at this time."

Also, the California Catholic Conference has lodged a formal protest with Secretary of Education William J. Bennett over the state's guidelines for Chapter 1 services. According to Joseph P. McElligott, director of education for the conference, those guidelines "limited the number of options for alternative services."

In Boston, which last year served about 1,900 religious-school students, leaders of the public- and diocesan-school systems are also planning to seek a delay, according Daniel S. Coughlin, director of Chapter 1 programs for the Boston Public Schools.

Mr. Coughlin said students in a handful of religious schools that have been paired with nearby public schools could begin receiving services within the next few weeks. He added, however, that officials "don't know how many parents, when the time comes, will actually let their kids go" to the public schools for a single 45-minute period of remedial instruction.

Cities and towns with relatively few religious-school students have begun to provide them with Chapter 1 aid. (New York City, which serves about 10 percent of the total religious-school Chapter 1 students, is providing the remedial instruction on-site, since the city won a one-year delay.)

Officials in Minneapolis have set up two neutral sites, to which about 100 students are bused during the day for their remedial instruction, according to Henry W. Terrell, a special assistant in the Chapter 1 program there.

Michigan's Superintendent of Public Instruction Phillip E. Runkel, has asked Secretary Bennett to approve a plan for Detroit, so that the city's 1,885 eligible parochial-school students can receive their aid by this week. That plan would provide for students in public schools, neutral sites, and mobile units and would be fully phased in by March 1, 1986.

Broad Effect Seen

Since the Felton ruling this past summer, state and local officials have sought to determine how it applies to other federal programs, particularly P.L. 94-142, Chapter 2 block grants, and bilingual-education aid.

Experts say states and districts are likely to alter how they deliver all federal aid to religious-school students if they have not made changes already.

Secretary Bennett, in a Sept. 12 letter to state education chiefs, called it "presumptuous for educational authorities to extend the Felton decision beyond the circum8stances clearly addressed by that case." He said that Felton should not affect handicapped- and bilingual-education aid and some Chapter 2 assistance to religious-school students.

Despite Mr. Bennett's warnings, a survey of special-education programs by the Education Commission of the States indicates that "states are indeed changing how they're delivering their services" under P.L. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, said Grace Belsches-Simmons, senior attorney with the ecs

The results of the ecs survey, which included responses from 29 states, were released at last month's annual meeting of the National Association of State Boards of Education in Seattle.

Before Felton, 8 of the 29 states had sent federally supported special-education teachers to the premises of religious schools.

Now, only one of those states, Kansas, continues to use faculty on-site, according to the ecs But handicapped students attending religious-schools are still served under P.L. 94-142, the survey found.

William Schipper, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, said that "there are a lot of questions and there is a lot of confusion" about how Felton applies to P.L. 94-142. He asserted that Mr. Bennett's letter did not offer constructive guidance.

A group of state Chapter 2 coordinators, at a meeting in Chicago scheduled for last week, were to discuss the effect of the Felton decision on their programs.

The ruling has "caused concern about our future planning" for the other programs, said Jay R. Cummings, director of state-federal programs for the Dallas Independent School District.

In Connecticut, some districts assumed that they could no longer provide Chapter 2 or P.L. 94-142 aid in religious schools, but were subsequently persuaded otherwise, according to The Rev. James G. Fanelli, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese of Hartford.

Vol. 05, Issue 10

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