A federal district court judge in New York has granted New York City a year's extension before it must comply with July's Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the use of federal funds to pay public school teachers offering remedial courses at religiously-affiliated schools.
The judge, however, said that the city must give him a progress report every 60 days on its efforts to implement the high court's ruling.
The decision involves the Title I program, which provides remedial assistance in reading and math to children from disadvantaged areas. If the children attended religiously-affiliated schools, and public school teachers went there to teach them, it was a practice the high court said was unconstitutional.
The ruling Sept. 26 by Judge Edward Neaher was a major victory for Education Secretary William J. Bennett, who had sharply criticized the Supreme Court's decision and offered unspecified "support" for local school districts that filed suit to delay their compliance. The department had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the New York City case.
"The district court's decision is a victory for common sense," Bennett said yesterday. "This period of transition will help protect the educational interests of disadvantaged children."
The ruling, however, was a setback to civil liberties groups that have accused Bennett and local school authorities of trying to ignore the Supreme Court decision.
"If it is unconstitutional, if it is a violation of the first amendment, you don't put off for a whole year correcting that violation," said Florence Flast, chairman of the Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty Inc.
Flast filed the first suit 19 years ago that led to the Supreme Court decision.
Cases similar to New York City's are pending in Kentucky and Missouri.