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Judge OKs Separate Classes for Hasidim at Public School

September 16, 1986 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ A program that would allow 390 Hasidic girls to take remedial classes in a separate wing of a primarily Hispanic public school will go on despite the objection of a parents’ group, a federal judge has ruled.

″Thank God that we have had the mental agility, the mental ability and the educational forthrightness to do things that are right, to make sure at least part of the country gets educated and not worry how they get educated,″ U.S. District Judge Mark A. Constantino said Monday.

Constantino ruled after hearing arguments from the city, which supports the plan, and lawyers representing the Parents’ Association, which sought to have the remedial students taught with other pupils at Public School 16 in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section, rather than in a separate wing.

Lawyers for the association said they would immediately appeal.

In the meantime, a boycott of classes, begun last week, continued Monday at P.S. 16. The absence rate was 90 percent, said Robert Terte, a spokesman for the Board of Education.

At issue was a decision by the board to allow remedial classes for the Hasidic girls in nine classrooms at P.S. 16.

The girls attend nearby Beth Rachel school, a private religious institution. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that sending public teachers to parochial schools violates the constitutional separation of church and state, so the city decided to hold remedial classes in the public schools.

Because Hasidic teaching forbids girls and boys to mix after age 3, the local superintendent ordered special doors built in a hallway to separate the girls.

P.S. 16 is 80 percent Hispanic, so the effect of separating the children is, in essence, segregation.

Attorney Marilyn Richter, who represented the city Monday, argued that the board’s intent was not to racially segregate the school.

She called the separation at P.S. 16 similar to the schools’ system of tracking students on the basis of intellectual ability, which she said ″produces more racial segregatation than random assignment.″

Costantino said in court papers that the parents had ″failed to demonstrate the defendants have the intent or purpose to discriminate.″

Richard J. Wagner, who represented the parents, accused the city of violating the Constitution. He read from earlier court papers in which the city’s corporation counsel said if there were no educational reason to separate the groups, the city would do so anyway because the girls cannot attend classes with boys.

At one point, Costantino delivered an impassioned speech about literacy, the law and the United States, and accused the parents’ lawyers of going into court with ″nebulous arguments″ based on the Constitution.

Outside court, several parents of pupils at P.S. 16 said they were willing to share the school but only if the classes could be mixed. They said setting aside rooms for the Hasidic girls meant their children would be overcrowded.

″I believe some of the classes will be taught in offices,″ added Nelida Morales, president of the Parents’ Association.

Last week, Rabbi Naftali H. Frankel, spokesman for Beth Rachel, four blocks from P.S. 16, said the real issue was politics. ″It has nothing to do with segregation or integration or co-education,″ he said then. ″We’ve always been separate. So why didn’t they protest last year?″

Martin Needleman, another attorney for the parents, admitted Monday that the issues ran deeper. ″It is an extension of other tensions that have existed in the community,″ he said.