Jews fight for equal access to special education funding in California
For Immediate Release: May 22, 2023
Media Contact: Ryan Colby | email@example.com | 202-349-7219
WASHINGTON – A group of Jewish parents and schools asked a Los Angeles federal court today to immediately halt a California law that excludes religious parents and schools from using special education funding to serve children with disabilities. In Loffman v. California Department of Education, a group of Orthodox Jewish parents want to send their children to Orthodox Jewish schools, and two Orthodox Jewish schools wish to explore serving such children. But they cannot do so because California politicians block federal and state special education funding from being used at religious private schools, even though those funds can be used at secular private schools. Becket, with the support of the Orthodox Union, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, is helping these parents and schools fight to stop California from arbitrarily punishing children with disabilities.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law ensuring that all children with disabilities in America can receive a free appropriate public education that meets their needs. This funding is offered to states to help pay for the cost of staff training, special education programs, assistive technology, and other services. IDEA ensures that children with disabilities can receive a free and appropriate public education in private schools when public schools cannot meet their needs.
But in California, the Legislature has decided that only secular private schools may participate in this benefits program and categorically excludes religious schools from participation. There is no good reason for depriving Orthodox Jewish children of a religious education merely to access special-education services. Indeed, according to Dr. Ronald Nagel, a prominent pediatrician in the Los Angeles area who filed a declaration in support of the preliminary injunction, when Orthodox Jewish children must attend public schools to obtain special-education services, that can lead to psychological issues, as it is more difficult for those children to integrate into their families and religious communities. Becket and the Orthodox Union are therefore working together to ensure that religious parents, their children with disabilities, and religious schools are treated equally under the law, a result that most Californians would like to see, according to a recent poll.
“It’s already outrageous enough that California legislators are denying special education benefits to Jewish kids with disabilities,” said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. “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.”
Chaya and Yoni Loffman, Fedora Nick and Morris Taxon, and Sarah and Ariel Perets are Orthodox Jewish parents who want their children with disabilities to go to schools that provide an education that allows them to reach their full potential as well as one centered around Jewish religious beliefs and practices. Shalhevet High School and Yavneh Hebrew Academy are Orthodox Jewish schools in Los Angeles that provide an excellent dual-curriculum education and seek to explore serving the needs of children with disabilities. However, politicians in Sacramento are making that impossible by denying religious schools the right to access publicly available funding to help children with disabilities.
A recent Supreme Court decision, 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. Carson builds on a long line of cases holding that religious people cannot be excluded from government benefits programs just because they are religious.
“How many Jewish kids have to suffer because California legislators are excluding them?” asked Rassbach. “The court should step in, block this discriminatory law, and ensure that access to essential benefits isn’t cut off from families and schools just because they are religious.”
The Orthodox Union, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, representing nearly 1,000 congregations as well as more than 400 Jewish non-public K-12 schools across the United States, has been supporting Becket’s effort to protect religious parents, their children, and religious schools’ right to access special education funding in the state of California. Orthodox Union is organizing a petition on this issue, which can be viewed here: teachcoalition.org.
For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-349-7219. Interviews can be arranged in English, Mandarin, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.
- Motion for Preliminary injunction in Loffman v. California Department of Education (May 22, 2023)
- Complaint in Loffman v. California Department of Education (March 13, 2023)
- Case page for Loffman California Department of Education (Images for media use, legal documents, videos)
- IDEA polling results one-pager (March 13, 2023)
- Orthodox Union’s petition urging Sacramento to protect children with disabilities
Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 25 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more here).