Subj: Re: AANEWS #152 To: All From: Christopher Baker Date: 9/9/96

A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S .....

NYC Continues Assault On Public Schools, First Amendment


New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced his support yesterday for a controversial plan which would "farm out" an initial group of 1,000 students from the city's cash-strapped educational system to Roman Catholic parochial schools. The Mayor was responding to the latest offer from Church authorities, one that has been proposed since 1991 in one form or another by Cardinal John O'Connor.

But as the Times noted,

The Mayor's scheme drew an immediate response from Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists.

Johnson added that the Mayor is showing a clear lack of commitment to the public education system.

According to reports, this latest proposal has been in the planning stage for some time -- at least from the viewpoint of [Roman Catholic] church authorities. The Mayor said that he became aware of this offer last week; and he promptly discussed the matter with New York Cardinal John O'Connor. Under the [Roman Catholic] Church plan, [Roman] Catholic schools in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, Queens and Brooklyn would take in an initial lot of 1,000 students.

There are considerable obstacles, though, and skepticism on the School Board which would have to approve this plan. O'Connor has even proposed another scheme -- one where empty parochial classroom space is turned over to the city in exchange for "modest fees." Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew expressed "reservations," and warned "I think that we've got to be a little bit careful about the sort of glitz of all of this." And Sandra Lerner, the only Jewish member of the Education Board, expressed worry of whether students sent to those Catholic schools would receive appropriate education on matters such as birth control. She also wondered if the scheme was simply not a form of voucher system.

The O'Connor-Giuliani plan comes at a time of crisis not only for New York City schools, but in the midst of possible litigation concerning First Amendment state-church separation questions.

* The New York School system is in considerable financial crisis. Schools opened last week to what the Times described as "the worst overcrowding in decades," with more than one million students in the system without seats.

The initial lot of 1,000 students would do little to address the deeper causes of that problem, and amounts to one-tenth-of-one-percent of that total; even so, it would be highly symbolic of a growing, working relationship between the Parochial school system, and the (secular) City educational system. First Amendment separationists see a myriad of possible legal problems here.

* The City of New York is already involved in "excessive entanglement" with religion, warn critics. Last week, officials in Yonkers announced yet another agreement to provide bus service for nearly 1,000 students in the local parochial school system. Yonkers had earlier yanked that subsidy, which amounts to $970,000 per year, following massive cut-backs announced by the state. Local [Roman Catholic] priests quickly organized a protest, and the "free ride" policy was re- instated.

* The City already provides remedial services to more than 22,000 students in 250 private and religious schools, at an annual cost of over $14 million. Last week, a group of Roman Catholic parents filed suit, protesting a policy whereby students must leave the building and go outside and into one of the 14 special trailers the City uses for the program. This is a challenge to the 1985 ruling, Aguilar v. Fenton, which found that public school teachers may not enter private, religious schools for purposes of giving instruction; judges ruled that doing so would constitute "entanglement" between government and religion.

* There are constant howls from ethnic and religious group demanding that the city establish "special" public schools to meet the alleged "needs" of certain students based on race, religious indoctrination, and -- more lately -- sex.

A "girls only" school has opened, and is being challenged with a lawsuit. For the Giuliani- O'Connor plan to work, though, church and city officials must find a way to avoid the appearance of religious indoctrination in the program.

Critics charge that any accommodation with religious schools -- including voucher schemes and reassignment of students -- simply avoids dealing with the root problems faced by many public school systems.

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Origin: Rights On!-Host/Moderator of A_THEIST-Titusville_FL_USA (1:374/14) Origin: Rights On! - Religion Free Always! - Titusville_FL_USA (1:374/14)