Roanoke Times
                 Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: TUESDAY, June 26, 1990                   TAG: 9006260533
SOURCE: Associated Press
DATELINE: CHARLOTTESVILLE                                LENGTH: Medium


Both sides claimed victory in the settlement of a lawsuit about the Shenandoah County School Board's involvement with private Bible study classes conducted during school hours.

The settlement approved Monday by U.S. District Judge James Michael bars private religious education teachers from entering classes at W.W. Robinson Elementary School in Woodstock to recruit students. The settlement also calls for the School Board to pay the plaintiffs an undisclosed amount of money without admitting to wrongdoing.

"We got the main things we wanted," said Sebastian Graber, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which had filed a $675,000 suit against the board.

"Litigation is so expensive. Attorneys' fees add up so much faster than the amount that could possibly be paid in the settlement," said Craig Wood, an attorney for the board's insurance company. "This case, if we both dug our heels in, would have gone to the Supreme Court."

The ACLU filed the suit six weeks ago on behalf of a third-grader at W.W. Robinson and the child's mother, both of whom will remain unidentified in accordance with the settlement, Michael said. The suit claimed the School Board violated the pupil's First Amendment rights by allowing certain activities involving the religion classes.

The suit said members of the Weekday Religious Education organization were allowed to park their mobile classrooms on school property and instructors were permitted inside classrooms to recruit pupils. The suit also said county teachers pressured pupils to sign up for the private classes.

"I don't know what the problems were on enforcement there," Graber said, "but there was somewhat of a cavalier attitude. But now we've got a court order."

Michael said the board must ban the organization's instructors from entering classrooms while pupils are in them, but he said they may briefly enter school offices for "administrative or emergency purposes."

Michael ordered the board to keep the organization's buses off school property. The judge said buses can park in front of the school momentarily to pick up and drop off pupils.

He said School Board employees cannot encourage pupils to participate in the program and the organization's instructors cannot escort pupils to and from the Bible classes.

"There were three main elements of the suit, all of which have been resolved to us," Graber said. Those elements, he added, were "no more Bible teachers in the public schools, no more public school teachers commenting about the benefits of religious education and no more religious buses on school parking lots."

Wood said Michael's order is already covered by the board's existing policy.

"There is not anything about this order that will require the School Board to change any of its existing policies," he said. "They will simply continue to apply the policy in the same way that they have in the past, and the order does not require them to do otherwise."

Wood said the board "is caught in the middle between competing interests in the community. This order, we think, balances those interests very nicely."

Wood said the monetary award would be paid by the board's insurance company. The policy carries a $5,000 deductible, he said.

 by CNB