From.......... Daily News Miner

January 18, 1997

page A5


The Associated Press

WASHINGTON The Supreme Court is reassessing its views on the constitutionality of sending taxpayer-paid teachers into parochial schools to offer students remedial help.

The court agreed Friday to consider reversing its 12-year-old decision barring public school teachers from church-affiliated schools.

Although its ruling likely will focus only that issue, the court's rationale could have an impact on other church-state disputes, such as prayer in schools and tax breaks for parents who send their children to church-run schools.

Today's court, far less demanding than it once was in requiring a strict separation of church and state, said it will study appeals by New York City school officials and parents of parochial school students.

The Clinton administration also says the 1985 Supreme Court ruling was wrong, and resulted in "hundreds of millions of dollars" of needless administrative costs.

Arguments will be heard in April. A decision is expected by July.

Mark Chopko, general counsel of the U.S. Catholic Conference, said the court should abandon its 1985 ruling. "I hope that this action signals the court's willingness to do justice to the children most in need of education," he said.

By a 5-4 vote in 1985, the nation's highest court ordered New York to stop sending public school teachers into parochial schools to teach such subjects as remedial reading and math.

On the current court, only Justice John Paul Stevens voted with the majority in the 1985 decision in Aguilar vs. Felton.

In recent years, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor two dissenters from the 1985 ruling have been joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas in calling for reversal or at least reconsideration.

Noting comments by those five justices, the appeals acted on today said it was "apparent ..... the result in Aguilar no longer may command the support of a majority of this court."

The 1985 ruling did not ban public school teachers from helping parochial students. In fact, such help for low-achieving students from poor families is mandated by a 1965 federal law known as Title I. But the ruling barred public school teachers from going to the religious schools.