The state Board of Education wants to identify issues related to religion in schools that the board may properly address, including the matter of prayer at graduation ceremonies.

Board members said Friday, however, that because the prayer issue is now before the U. S. Supreme Court, it "is not appropriate for resolution by the (board) at this time."A Utah group petitioned the board last month to make a ruling on school prayer based on a 1983 regulation that allows prayers during public meetings.

The group was responding in part to a decision in Jordan School District to discontinue prayers as part of graduation rites. The district faced a lawsuit filed by a Salt Lake lawyer challenging "sectarian" prayers at Brighton High School graduation ceremonies.

The lawyer said the district went beyond the scope of his suit, since it only requested non-sectarian prayers. The district, however, said it would be too complicated to comply with such a definition and eliminated prayers from graduations rather than face a long and potentially costly lawsuit.

In a statement released Friday, the state board said it will assign staff members to conduct an initial study and review of questions related to religion in the schools. The staff members will meet with local school officials and others interested in the issue to try to determine which items should be addressed by the board.

"We express our appreciation to those who have contacted the board and expressed willingness to assist in examination of this most sensitive and important subject," the statement says. It was accepted by the board without comment.

In a related matter, board member John M.R. Covey issued a personal statement saying he believes Utah students should be exposed to religious concepts in school to help them learn to "live with our deepest differences in a pluralistic society."

He noted comments made recently by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that people need spiritual and moral values in their lives. Such moral values generated by religion in the past "can help us in our work of renewal," the Russian leader said. "We all have a right to satisfy our spiritual needs."

"Do Utah students deserve any less?" Covey asked. He said that while separation of church and state is imperative, government has no more right to prohibit religion than it does to establish it. He supports additional study of the issue.