School Board Yields to Federal Legislation

Emma Schwartz covers Berkeley schools. E-mail her at [email protected].

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Berkeley school board members agreed Wednesday night to follow a federal law even though the board had previously passed two resolutions that contradict it.

The Berkeley Unified School District must immediately comply with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which sets standards for educational policy, to receive federal funds for the current school year.

Two of the act's clauses require the school district to open its facilities to Boy Scouts of America and provide military recruiters with information about students, both of which conflict with prior school board policy.

In 1998, the school district passed a resolution banning organizations they deemed discriminatory from using school facilities. Boy Scouts of America does not allow homosexuals to hold leadership positions.

Additionally, previous school district policy prohibited the release of personal student information to college or military recruiters .

Boardmember Terry Doran said the board "reluctantly" accepted the federal law because its members do not have funds to challenge it in court.

"We have no choice, even though it breaks our policy," he said. "We feel our local policy follows national guidelines against any kind of discrimination. Yet we're being told now by a national legislation that we don't have to follow national law."

Under the new school district policy, parents may send a letter to prevent schools from releasing their children's information to military recruiters.

District officials said they will inform high school students of the policy and will include information about it in the new student handbook.

U.S. Department of Education spokesperson Jim Bradshaw said the federal act was a "far-reaching" educational reform but declined to comment on how the two clauses contribute to education.

Law experts said clauses that threaten local governments with restrictions on federal funding are generally used to enforce anti-discrimination policies.

"Putting conditions on the receipt of federal funds is a long time-honored tradition," said Boalt Hall School of Law professor Malcolm Feeley. "The irony is that it appears to be used to force the city to discriminate or support organizations which discriminate."

Leaders of Boy Scout troops in Berkeley said they were pleased with the school board's announcement but said they do not anticipate much change in their activities because they have arrangements to use other facilities.

Some leaders added they were "sympathetic" with the school board's concern over Boy Scouts of America policy toward homosexuals.

"The policy is dead wrong," said Rob Ham, an assistant scoutmaster for a local troop.

The act balances privacy with national security by allowing the government access to information necessary for military recruitment while giving parents control of their children's personal information, said Bill Carr, Department of Defense principal director of Military Personnel Policy.

In the past 10 years military recruiting has become harder, and investment per recruit has increased from $6,500 to $12,000, Carr added.


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