Supreme Court to review 1985 church-state decision

WASHINGTON, Jan. 21 (JTA) — The Supreme Court’s decision to consider hearing arguments over the constitutional merits of forcing public school teachers to teach remedial classes at parochial schools will likely divide Jewish groups. Late last week, the court agreed to consider an appeal by New York City parents of parochial students who hope to overturn a 1985 Supreme Court decision that barred public school teachers from teaching in religious schools. The decision has posed a financial hardship on many public school districts that must still provide special education services to private school students under federal law. Thousands of low-income Jewish students currently are eligible for remedial instruction at yeshivas in the New York area. The court must first rule on whether the parents’ appeal is valid. If the court accepts that argument, it would consider changes to the ban. The Clinton administration and the Department of Education have urged the court to overturn the decision in the 1985 case, Aguilar vs. Felton. The court scheduled arguments for April and if it decides that the appeal is legitimate, a decision on the broader case is expected by the end of the court’s term in July. If the justices issue a new decision in the case, it is expected to initiate a new set of guidelines dealing with church-state issues. Orthodox Jewish groups have lined up in favor of the New York City parents. Other Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress are expected to file friend-of-the-court briefs in opposition. The cases are known as Agostini vs. Felton and Chancellor vs. Felton.

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