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A Small Harlem Parochial School Braces for Chapter 1 Change With AM-Parochial Aid Bjt

October 19, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ St. Cecilia Elementary School, where Pat Brophy teaches sixth-grade remedial reading, is a safe haven in a tough neighborhood where street corners are narcotics supermarkets.

But because of a Supreme Court decision last July, Aguilar vs. Felton, Ms. Brophy’s remedial class and thousands like it around the country will be forced out of their familiar surroundings for at least part of the school day.

Ms. Brophy is a public school teacher teaching a federally funded remedial education class in a parochial school - and the high court said that her presence on church-owned grounds violates the constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state.

In a St. Cecilia classroom that badly needs repainting, Ms. Brophy has the mostly black and Hispanic youngsters read silently for a few minutes. Then, she patiently reads aloud the humorous poem ″Chicken Soup With Rice.″

A federal judge on Sept. 30 granted New York City a one-year delay in implementing the Supreme Court ruling. Starting in December, the board of education will have to give the judge progress reports every two months on steps it is taking to comply with the decision.

School districts elsewhere in the nation had to comply immediately.

Some 25,000 low-income New York City parochial school children receive remedial instruction taught by public school teachers under the program begun in the 1960s.

The city board of education is now studying options on where to move more than 250 classes like Ms. Brophy’s.

Louise Latty, the board’s chief executive for instruction, said the classes might be held in neighboring public schools, provided they aren’t overcrowded already. This would be the least expensive option for the city.

But the response from neighborhood public schools so far has been ″extremely poor,″ said Ms. Latty. ″We are going back and searching that option very carefully.″

Some classes might be moved to ″neutral sites″ like armories, libraries, or even vacant storefronts, if they can be leased at reasonable cost and if they comply with school building codes. A building containing asbestos, for instance, would be automatically ruled out, as would any without suitable heat and plumbing.

Finally, some classes might be held in portable facilities like vans, or in prefabricated buildings built in nearby vacant lots. The cost of such mobile classrooms is high, said Ms. Latty: $50,000 to $100,000. Besides the pricetag, vans might be targets for vandals, may not be easy to park, and would have to be designed to provide adequate heat and plumbing during the winter.

″It simply is not that easy. That’s why we told the court we needed the year delay,″ she said.

At a school like St. Cecilia’s, the problems in complying with the Supreme Court ruling rendered 220 miles away in Washington are especially difficult.

There are no obvious alternative sites for remedial classes for little children on 106th street in East Harlem - no libraries, American Legion Halls or Knights of Columbus. And few parochial school parents want to send their children to classes in the very public schools they sought to escape.

Next door to the school is a rubble-strewn vacant lot - and St. Cecilia’s principal, Sister Kathleen Ballantine, said she has suggested to the city board of education that they might build a modular classroom there.

More than 180 of St. Cecilia’s 420 pupils in kindergarten to eighth grade qualify for federally-funded remedial instruction. The school offers such programs in reading, math, and English-as-a-Second-Language.

Youngsters at St. Cecilia’s spend from 3 to 8 hours per week in those classes.

Sister Ballantine said that the court ruling means public school guidance counselors and psychologists will no longer pay weekly visits to St. Cecilia. For non-English speaking children and parents, that could add considerably to the stress of school, she said.

″But what concerns me most is the waste of time during the school day,″ she said - the time it will take to dress youngsters in their overcoats, walk them to wherever their remedial class is to be held, then undress them again.

An added unsolved problem is liability. Is the parochial school or the public school responsible for ushering children safely to and from their remedial classes? If a child is hurt en route, who is liable?

″I don’t think the parents fully understand yet. They haven’t gotten the full impact of this ruling. But given our neighborhood, I would think parents will be genuinely concerned,″ said Sister Ballantine.

Nine-year-old Eligio spent much of his school career at neighboring public schools before arriving at St. Cecilia’s two years ago.

″I wouldn’t like it,″ he said, if his remedial classes were moved back to a public school. ″The eighth-graders used to beat me up. That’s why my parents took me out.″

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