The Special Ed Advocate Newsletter
July 11, 2000

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Issue - 79

ISSN: 1538-3202

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1. From Washington, DC -  U. S. Supreme Court Okays Aid to Religious Schools 

In 1985, two mothers filed suit against the Jefferson Parish (LA) school district. The mothers were distressed that religious schools were receiving federal and state aid. They felt that this practice drained funds from public schools, shortchanging the children who attended public schools.

In their lawsuit, the mothers claimed that parochial schools were using federal funds to purchase religious books and that Jefferson Parish was providing religious books to parochial school libraries. The lawsuit also challenged state special education programs that provided special education teachers and supplies to parochial schools.

In 1999, relying on earlier decisions by the U. S. Supreme Court, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that loaning computers and library books to religious schools was unconstitutional. The district appealed this decision to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court heard oral argument on December 1, 1999.

On June 28, the United States Supreme Court issued a 6-3 split decision in Mitchell v. Helms, and found that government aid to religious schools does not violate the Establishment Clause.

Although this closely watched case focused on a government  program that allows religious schools to borrow computers, software and books, many experts say the decision will have a ripple effect on other forms of aid to private and religious schools, including tuition vouchers and Internet connections.

Judge Clarence Thomas wrote for the four-judge plurality: "It is the students and their parents -- not the government -- who, through their choice of school,  determine who receives Chapter 2 funds. The aid follows the child."

In a concurring opinion, Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Stephen Breyer expressed concerns about "excessive entanglement" between government and religion and advocated for standards laid out in by the high court in their 1997 ruling in "Agostini v. Felton." Justice O'Connor authored the opinion in Pete's case, Florence County School District IV v. Shannon Carter.

Justices Souter, Stevens and Ginsburg dissented, arguing that the views expressed by Justice Thomas departed from the high court's earlier decisions involving First Amendment issues.

You can get the decision in Mitchell v. Helms from law sites including Findlaw. Get a copy of the decision from Findlaw

Under "Browsing," click "Recent Decisions," then click "Mitchell v. Helms" [98-1648].

Education Week writer Mark Walsh wrote a thought-provoking article about the implications of this decision in "Supreme Court Upholds Program Aiding Religious Schools" and "Church State Rulings Cut Both Ways."

2. From West Virginia - State Seizes School District 

On June 8, the West Virginia Board of Education used their "takeover law" to seize control of Lincoln County School District. Effective July 1, the superintendent was replaced and the school board lost decision-making authority.

West Virginia auditors found serious problems in Lincoln that included personnel selection procedures, assessment, improper use of "interim positions," sloppy bookkeeping, and uncorrected curriculum problems.

Daniel F. Hedges, an attorney who is pushing to eliminate disparities in state funding of education, blames the state education department for many of Lincoln's problems. When Lincoln wanted to keep its four small high schools open, the state refused to pay for any renovations to the schools but offered money for one large school.

Source: "West Virginia Seizes Control of It's Third School District" by Bess Keller, Education Week, June 21, 2000)

3. Pete and Pam Wright in West Virginia on July 27-28 - Mark Your Calendars!

If you live in Ohio, Kentucky or West Virginia, we hope you'll come to Huntington WV for "Riding Education Into the 21st Century," a conference for parents and professionals sponsored by the Mountain State Parents, Children and Adolescents Network.

On Friday, July 28, Pete Wright will present a three-hour session on "Special Education Law and You." Later in the day, Pam Wright will talk about "Advocacy and Self Esteem." Pete Wright will present the Keynote address at the dinner meeting. Here are two links for information about this conference.

The Conference brochure in pdf

Conference information in html

We hope you'll make it - we're looking forward to meeting you! 

For information about where we'll be speaking during the next few months, please check our Conference Schedule.



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