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Parents sue California to use special-education funding at Jewish schools

They allege that state law discriminates against Jewish children with disabilities.

Outlined state of California on a school chalkboard. Credit: Ezume Images/Shutterstock.
Outlined state of California on a school chalkboard. Credit: Ezume Images/Shutterstock.

In what the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty calls “a special kind of chutzpah,” California denies Jewish families the opportunity to use special-education funding for children with disabilities at private, religious schools.

“It takes a special kind of chutzpah to deny Jewish kids with disabilities equal access to special education benefits,” stated Eric Rassbach, Becket vice president and senior counsel.

“California politicians can end this unlawful discrimination the easy way or the hard way,” he added. “Either they change the law that is hurting children with disabilities, or they can shamefully fight in court for the right to discriminate.”

Per the complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, three sets of parents and two private Orthodox Jewish schools—Shalhevet High School and Yavneh Hebrew Academy—allege that “the State of California discriminates against Jewish children with disabilities and Jewish schools that seek to provide an education for children with disabilities.”

The federal statute Individuals with Disabilities Education Act only applies to “nonsectarian” schools, according to California law, per the complaint. “It is thus impossible for a child with a disability to be placed at a religious school and receive the same funding that he would otherwise be entitled to have his parents sent him to a nonreligious school.”

IDEA funding helps cover staff training, special-education programs and assistive technologies, among other services, according to Becket.

The 2022 Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin “struck down a Maine law that attempted to do precisely what the California law does here—allow private secular schools and families to access public funding but exclude religious schools and families from the same access,” said Beckett.

“California’s elected officials should want to help the most vulnerable members of our society, not hurt them,” Rassbach stated. “There is no reason to stand by this outmoded law instead of giving kids with disabilities equal access to benefits.”

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