Education guidelines: Keep classes free of religious symbols

WASHINGTON, July 21 (JTA) — Parochial school classrooms should be free of religious symbols when public school teachers are providing remedial instruction, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The recommendation is part of a new set of guidelines released this week in response to a Supreme Court ruling allowing public school teachers to offer special needs instruction at religiously affiliated private schools. In a 5-4 decision last month, Agostini vs. Felton, the justices overturned a 1985 high court ruling barring such visits. The court’s action is expected to provide better access to federally supported remedial aid for thousands of low-income Jewish students attending parochial schools across the country. The new guidelines, many of which were in place prior to 1985, are intended to ensure that remedial instruction programs in parochial schools remain wholly secular. They state, among other things, that teachers should not take part in team-teaching with parochial school employees and that they should not become involved in the religious activities of the school. The American Jewish Congress, which had earlier requested such guidelines to protect against entanglement between church and state, said it was satisfied with the Education Department’s move. “Now it just remains to be seen whether the schools will follow this guidance,” Marc Stern, co-director of the AJCongress’ legal department, said, noting that the guidelines are not binding.

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