Federal File: Form-al Protest; Civil Rights; Civil Wrongs

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The Reagan Administration's proposed new rules for bilingual education, which followed a highly publicized speech by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett last fall, had generated only a handful of comments as of last week.

But advocacy groups that have condemned the change in federal policy--which encourages more English and less native-language instruction--are now mounting their campaign against the rules.

A coalition of groups has drafted and is distributing a sample protest letter; they have also addressed comments to specific portions of the regulations. The deadline now for comments is Jan. 21.

The groups involved include the National Council of LaRaza, the National Association for Bilingual Education, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

The letter says that the proposed new rules "are objectionable because they violate the provisions of the statute, the expressed intent of Congress, the principles of effective education, and even the Secretary's declared policy objective of increasing the 'flexibility' to local school officials under the [bilingual-education] program."

Barbara Lerner, a Princeton, N.J.-based education consultant with graduate degrees in law and psychology, will probably be President Reagan's nominee as assistant secretary for the Education Department's office for civil rights.

An Administration official said last week that the fbi is conducting a background check on Ms. Lerner.

Ms. Lerner is not a civil-rights activist or practicing attorney, but a scholar whose work has involved psychology and aspects of testing and education.

She has written two books: Therapy in the Ghetto (1972) and Minimum Competence, Maximum Choice: Second Chance Legislation (1979), which advocated vouchers for public-school students who consistently fail.

Ms. Lerner has been a visiting scholar at the Educational Testing Service and was the study director of the committee on ability testing, a panel sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences.

Among her teaching posts has been one at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Harry M. Singleton, the former assistant secretary for civil rights, who quit his post officially Dec. 31, is still at the department as a consultant.

Last week, he finally commented on the results of an investigation by the House Government Operations Committee that strongly criticized ocr, calling it "ridiculous" and "a lot of nonsense."

"What we have is a very biased investigation conducted by a liberal politician with very different views on how to achieve some very important civil-rights goals," Mr. Singleton said.--jh

Vol. 05, Issue 17

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