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Becket: Sacramento ‘slamming door’ on religious children with disabilities

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena, Calif., is hearing oral arguments in “Loffman v. California Department of Education.”

The California Department of Education building in downtown
Sacramento. Credit: ZikG/Shutterstock.
The California Department of Education building in downtown Sacramento. Credit: ZikG/Shutterstock.

Sacramento is “is slamming the door on children with disabilities just because they come from religious families,” according to Laura Wolk Slavis, counsel at the nonprofit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“That’s unacceptable,” Wolk Slavis told JNS. “We are asking the Ninth Circuit to ensure that Jewish kids with disabilities can access the resources they need and deserve—just like everyone else.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena, Calif., heard oral arguments on Tuesday in “Loffman v. California Department of Education.”

In this case, Orthodox Jewish parents “are fighting for the ability to send their children with disabilities to schools that will best serve their children, as permitted by federal law,” according to Becket. “California politicians, however, have blocked federal and state special education funding from being used at religious schools—even though it is available to families whose children attend hundreds of other private schools across California and even out of state.”

Becket and Teach Coalition, an Orthodox Union initiative, “are helping these parents and schools stop California from denying crucial benefits to Jewish children with disabilities,” the Becket Fund added.

Judges Kim McLane Wardlaw, Morgan Christen and Mark J. Bennett heard oral arguments on Tuesday.

At one point, Bennett told Thomas Prouty, deputy general counsel at California Department of Education, that he was particularly struck by an amicus brief from the California Catholic Conference and that everyone knows the “horrible history in the 19th century of the Blaine Amendment and anti-Catholic sentiment.” (The amendment to the U.S. Constitution sought to deny direct government funding to religious schools.)

“I just—I can’t understand how the state can defend a law which says that Catholic schools, Catholic secular schools, Jewish secular schools, Muslim secular schools, Buddhist secular schools, they just don’t qualify,” he said. “Virtually every other private school can qualify, but religious schools don’t.”

Chaya and Yoni Loffman, Jewish parents of a child with disabilities in Los Angeles, told JNS that “California is denying parents like us the chance to provide our son with a safe, supportive learning environment simply because of our Jewish faith.”

“We pray that the court will end the punishment of religious families and the religious schools that wish to serve children with disabilities,” they added.

The case centers on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal law.

“IDEA provides federal funding to states, including California, for special education programs in public schools,” according to Becket. “But public schools cannot always meet the needs of students with disabilities, so federal and state law allow that funding to be used at private schools that can provide that critical support.”

“In California, however, state politicians have blocked private religious schools’ access to this funding, leaving religious parents with no opportunity to place their children in schools that nurture their faith and support their unique needs, while allowing families who desire a private education to choose a school suited to their child’s unique needs,” it added.

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