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School officials in Pennsylvania are violating federal law by failing to resolve special-education disputes on time, a group of parents allege in a federal class action filed last month.

Under the law, parents' special-education complaints must be settled at the state level within 60 days. State school officials, however, are failing to meet that deadline for almost half of the special-education complaints filed with the state education department, according to the lawsuit. Some have languished for more than a year.

"During these delays, children with disabilities frequently regress, their behavior deteriorates and they fail academically,'' the lawsuit charges.

The suit also names the federal government for allegedly failing to force the state to meet its deadlines.

State school officials have not yet filed a response to the suit. However, Gary Tuma, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said the state agrees that special-education disputes should be settled quickly.

"And we are working hard to make sure that is done,'' he said.

The state of Connecticut last week won a court order forcing the Meriden school board to adopt a breakfast program in an elementary school that enrolls a large number of low-income students.

The school board voted several times during the past year not to offer the meals at John Barry Elementary School. Members objected to the cost of the program and questioned the right of the state to force it on districts, said Frank Kogut, the board president.

State education officials "are assuming a certain number of children come to school hungry, but I haven't seen any statistics,'' Mr. Kogut said.

"They're making the inference that if children qualify for free or reduced lunch, [parents] are not feeding them breakfast either,'' he added.

Although state officials contend that federal and state grants will pay for the meals, board members also argue that the district must bear the costs of administering the program.

Commissioner of Education Vincent L. Ferrandino has warned the district that it could lose some state funds after an internal investigation is completed.

More than 100 Connecticut schools with a large number of children from low-income families are required to serve breakfast, and at least another 100 qualify for the program. Meriden apparently is the first district to refuse to participate, Mr. Kogut said.

A state watchdog agency in Kentucky has criticized the state's relationship with the contractor that is overseeing a high-profile effort to link all of its schools by computer.

In the most recent of a series of official criticisms of the troubled project, consultants for the state's office of educational accountability last month said that the role of Digital Equipment Corporation, which is acting as an independent consultant on the project, was never spelled out in a formal contract.

The computer project is an integral part of the state's sweeping 1990 education-reform act.

The report notes that a $1 million annual cap on spending for the project, which was imposed on the education department by the legislature, helped stall the wiring of schools and changed what should have been an "arm's length'' relationship between Digital and the education department to more of an alliance against the legislature.

George DeBin, the project's director, should meet with Digital's representatives and department officials within the month to insure that Digital's role is carefully spelled out, the report says.

Vol. 13, Issue 02

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