California Parents, Religious Schools Request Injunction on Special Ed. Funds Restriction

By Matis Glenn


A group of Jewish parents and schools petitioned a Los Angeles federal court Monday to temporarily halt a California law that prohibits public funding to be used for special education in religious schools, as a lawsuit brought by the group in March is pending.

Secular private schools are currently entitled to special education funding; only religious institutions are excluded.

Becket, a religious liberty legal advocacy group, filed the suit in March on behalf of Shalhevet High School and Yavneh Hebrew Academy, along with two families which have children with special needs which were not provided with funding for services which their children required.

Becket lawyers say that the schools and parents are entitled to funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law that guarantees free services to meet the needs of disabled children nationwide.

IDEA stipulates that private schools are eligible for the funding as well, which is used to pay for staff training, special education programs, assistive technology, and other services.

Dr. Ronald Nagel, a prominent pediatrician in the Los Angeles area, filed a declaration in support of the preliminary injunction, saying that Orthodox Jewish children who attend public schools to obtain special-education services can lead to psychological and social issues, making it difficult for children to integrate into their families and the Orthodox community if they are educated in a public school environment.

Becket and the Orthodox Union point to a recent poll which says that most people in California support lifting the restrictions.

“It’s already outrageous enough that California legislators are denying special education benefits to Jewish kids with disabilities,” Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket said in a statement. “But even worse, they’re denying benefits specifically because these kids want to go to a Jewish school. We’re asking the court to put a stop to this discriminatory law and let these kids get the benefits and services they need.”

A recent Supreme Court decision, Carson v. Makin, struck down a similar Maine law that allowed private secular schools to receive funding, but excluded religious ones.

“There are two reasons why this lawsuit is so important,” Maury Litwack, of the Orthodox Union, who is involved in the legal proceedings told Hamodia in March.

“Firstly, parents are being treated unfairly. And second, this is the domino effect from the Supreme Court decision that we were all paying attention to. We are going to continue to look at any example of this around the country; federal, state, and local government where this is taking place, because the Supreme Court said that this is unconstitutional; you’re not allowed to do this.”

Laura Wolk Slavis, an attorney at Becket, says that the legal group requested a preliminary injunction because they believe it fits the necessary legal criteria – namely that the law is actively causing “irreparable harm,” and that the case has a lot of merit to stand on.

“We think that the constitutional violations here are very clear and very egregious,” Wolk Slavis told Hamodia. “The courts are really clear that the deprivation of First Amendment rights for even minimal periods of time is irreparable harm, because every day that you’re not allowed to practice your religion, or speech is a day that you’ll never get back, and that’s what’s happening with our clients. Every day that they’re not allowed to advocate for their children to be placed in a religious school, they and their children are missing crucial time to receive that religious education, that they’ll never get back.”

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