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Judge Excuses 6 Pupils From CLAS Test : Courts: Parents win restraining order against Placentia-Yorba Linda and Tustin districts.

May 05, 1994|E.J. GONG JR. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — An Orange County judge Wednesday issued a restraining order that temporarily prohibits two local school districts from administering the controversial California Learning Assessment System test to six students whose parents object to it.

Superior Court Judge Richard W. Luesebrink granted the restraining order in a lawsuit filed by parents whose children attend schools in the Placentia-Yorba Linda and Tustin Unified school districts. The California Department of Education also was named in the suit.

Both districts already have administered the annual test for this year.

The parents allege that the test is highly subjective and invades their children's privacy by forcing them to analyze their beliefs about family life, religion and sex.

CLAS test proponents argue it is a sophisticated exam that measures a child's analytical ability and educational level through essays and group discussions.

In the lawsuit, the parents cited what they believe are sample questions from the confidential CLAS exams. One example asked students to write about an incident in which their perception of a family member changed. The parents argue in the lawsuit that the question forces children to reveal private experiences with their families.

"The test is a violation of our rights as parents," said Dianne Lounsbury, 43, the mother of a fourth-grader in a Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified school. Lounsbury said she took her 10-year-old daughter out of school last month to keep her from being tested. The other parents also took their children out of school to avoid the testing, said attorney John A. Mendoza of Los Angeles.

Mendoza, who represented Lounsbury and her husband, Steve, along with two other families, said the judge's decision was significant because it now allows other Orange County parents to seek court action to excuse their children from the test.

But officials from both school districts said Wednesday's court action had little meaning or consequence because existing school policy allows any child to be exempt from the exam.

"We already have the 'opt out' option. If parents don't want their kids to take the test, all they have to do is notify the school or the district, and their child is exempt," said James O. Fleming, superintendent of the Placentia-Yorba Linda district.

State Department of Education officials on Wednesday fought back at critics of the exams, filing a legal brief in a Los Angeles suit brought by opponents seeking to require parental permission for the tests.

The state education code provides that "no test, questionnaire, survey or examination containing any questions about the pupil's personal beliefs or practices in sex, family life, morality and religion, or any questions about his parents' or guardians' beliefs and practices in sex, family life, morality and religion, shall be administered" to anyone in kindergarten through 12th grade without written parental permission.

Joseph R. Symkowick, the state Education Department's general counsel, said: "We believe firmly that the CLAS tests do not require (parental) consent. It's a reading and writing test, not a Masters-and-Johnson-type survey."

Judge Robert O'Brien, who has asked to examine copies of this year's tests, has scheduled a hearing Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court on whether parental permission must be obtained before the tests are given.

A hearing on the Orange County lawsuit is set for May 18, when the families will ask for a permanent restraining order.

More than two dozen suits have been filed against school districts around the state, in which parents and religious groups complained about the exam. Plaintiffs in most cases have received legal help from either the Escondido-based U.S. Justice Foundation or the Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Va.

Times staff writer Jean Merl contributed to this story.

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