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Public high school graduation exercises may include a prayer if graduating seniors choose to have one, a federal judge ruled late last month.

U.S. District Judge Harold L. Ryan ruled against a family that challenged prayers in the Grangeville, Idaho, district.

The judge said the U.S. Supreme Court's Lee v. Weisman decision last year banning state-sponsored prayers at graduation ceremonies did not preclude students from choosing to include a prayer.

Since the senior class is free to choose whether to include a prayer, the fact that the ceremonies are supervised by school officials does not equate with the level of official involvement that the High Court struck down in Lee, Judge Ryan said in his May 20 ruling in Harris v. Joint School District No. 241.

The ruling is the second in which a federal court has approved student-initiated graduation prayers following the High Court's decision in Lee. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit last year upheld student-initiated prayers if they are nonsectarian and do not proselytize. (See Education Week, May 19, 1993.)

Judge Ryan wrote that, "apparently, the Supreme Court is willing to tolerate some prayer at graduation ceremonies,'' since it did not use the Lee case to flatly ban such prayers "under any circumstances.''

Stephen Pevar, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union's Denver office who is representing the plaintiffs, said the decision would be appealed.

Sid Thompson was named the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District and given a two-year contract late last month by the city's school board.

Mr. Thompson, who assumed the role of interim superintendent when William Anton retired last fall, begins his term as the nation's second-largest school district faces a $140 million budget shortfall and the task of implementing campus reforms.

School officials are also battling attempts by state legislators and public-interest groups to break up the sprawling, 640,000-student district into several independent units.

Although several community groups lobbied for the appointment of a Latino to represent the city's student majority, Mr. Thompson was chosen as the district's first African-American superintendent.

Mr. Thompson's $140,000-a-year contract, which was endorsed by all but one board member, is scheduled to run through June 30, 1995.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court ruling that the town of West Warwick is responsible for raising the $1.4 million necessary to operate its schools.

Last fall, voters in the town rejected a budget increase intended to keep the schools running through the year. When the town then failed to come up with the money, school officials appealed to the courts and to State Commissioner of Education Peter McWalters.

Both ruled that the town is obligated to fund labor contracts and mandated services, and thus must find new revenue, even though the voters objected, said David Lussier, a lawyer for the West Warwick schools.

Since the ruling, the town has increased its property-tax rate to make up for the budget shortfall.

A Louisiana man who shot to death a Japanese exchange student last October was found not guilty of manslaughter late last month.

Rodney Peairs of Baton Rouge shot Yoshihiro Hattori with a .44 magnum handgun on Oct. 17 when the youth and a high school friend mistakenly appeared at the Peairs's front door looking for a Halloween party that was taking place six doors down.

Mr. Peairs said Mr. Hattori, who was dressed as John Travolta in the movie "Saturday Night Fever,'' appeared to him to be a grinning, crazed individual who was armed.

Mr. Hattori apparently did not understand Mr. Peairs's command to "freeze.''

Mr. Peairs's lawyer contended that his client was simply defending his family and home.

The 12-member jury returned its unanimous verdict in less than three hours.

The case was widely reported in Japan as an example of the violence many Japanese believe is at the heart of American society.

Vol. 12, Issue 36

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