THE DISTRICT

Special-Ed Director Trumpets Progress

The D.C. school system has made significant progress in reducing the backlog of cases of students waiting to be assessed for special education services, school officials told the D.C. Council yesterday.

Anne Gay, director of the special education program, told a hearing moderated by D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) that the backlog of cases has been reduced 78 percent in the past few months. However, the number of students waiting for three-year reevaluations as required by law increased, from nearly 2,000 to 3,913, she said.

Chavous asked Gay about a U.S. District Court judge's ruling last week ordering school officials to fix the bathrooms at River Terrace Elementary School to accommodate a young boy with cerebral palsy whose wheelchair could not fit inside.

Gay said that Judge Thomas Hogan made a mistake and that the bathroom was compliant with the American With Disabilities Act. Chavous said later that he plans to make sure the work the school system has done in the bathrooms conforms with ADA standards.

Teachers Still Retrieving Paychecks

The number of D.C. school employees forced to pick up paychecks downtown because of problems processing their most recent time sheets has climbed to more than 900, schools chief financial officer Don Rickford said yesterday.

The school system's more than 10,000 employees were paid through a new computer system for the first time last week. Rickford attributed the problems with some paychecks--which were either incomplete or not issued at all--to kinks in the new system, which he said should be worked out by the next payday.

Teachers have lined up at a city comptroller's office each day this week to pick up paychecks. Yesterday, the office opened 15 minutes late, frustrating some teachers who had come during their lunch hours. Rickford said school employees who still need assistance should come to the seventh floor of school headquarters, 825 North Capitol St. NE, today, Monday or Tuesday between 3 and 7 p.m.

Columbia Heights Plan Postponed

A city panel yesterday postponed until Nov. 18 awarding an exclusive development agreement to three developers who have proposed $131 million in construction around the new Columbia Heights Metro station.

Members of the D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency said they wanted extra time to study the matter and to allow for consideration of an arts-related use in the historic Tivoli Theatre on 14th Street NW.

Robert Walker, chairman of the land agency's board, said the board has not changed its original opinion that the team of developers came up with the best proposals, but the delay may "turn down the decibel level" in the neighborhood debate over the controversial project.

VIRGINIA

State Supreme Court Weighs ID Program

The Gilmore administration asked the Virginia Supreme Court yesterday to reverse a lower-court ruling and uphold a Republican-backed program requiring voters in Arlington and Fairfax counties and eight other localities to show identification before voting on Nov. 2.

A five-judge panel of the 10-member court gave the state 10 minutes yesterday to explain why the injunction imposed three days ago by a lower court judge should be dissolved, clearing the way for a pilot program on voter identification in the upcoming legislative elections. A decision by the high court is expected today. The state said it has until Monday evening to mail voter ID forms and literature to localities.

State Exam Questions Posted Online

The Virginia Department of Education posted about 200 items from past Standards of Learning exams on its Web site this week for public review.

The questions are from the 1998 tests given to third-, fifth- and eighth-graders and some of the high school tests given that year. The questions can be found at www.pen.k12.va.us, the department's Web site.

MARYLAND

Historic Annapolis Tree to Be Cut Down

After a ceremony at St. John's College in Annapolis on Monday morning, the historic Liberty Tree, badly damaged during Hurricane Floyd, will be cut down, the college announced yesterday.

The 8 a.m. ceremony, on the steps of McDowell Hall on the campus, will feature the color guard from the Naval Academy, remarks from state, county and local officials and the singing of the national anthem by St. John's professor Peter Kalkazage, spokeswoman Barbara Goyette said. It is expected to take a day and a half to cut the tree down.

The tree, a towering tulip poplar, has stood for more than two centuries. Annapolis residents gathered around it Sept. 27, 1775, to debate a resolution to expel all British sympathizers from the city.

THE REGION

Hundreds Rally for Residency Bill

About 350 members of the region's large Central American population rallied outside the U.S. Capitol yesterday to urge Congress to pass a bill that would allow most Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan and Haitian immigrants to become permanent U.S. residents.

Activists said the measure would help more than 50,000 residents of the region, many of whom have lived here for years but have been granted only temporary work permits.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "What we have found is that over time, the drivers have started praying in groups. It was a safety hazard. They wouldn't be in their cabs able to move." -- Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority,

on regulations that have drawn protests from many Muslim cabdrivers who pick up passengers at Reagan National Airport. Their religion requires them to pray five times a day. Page B1.