Three orthodox Jewish families and two orthodox Jewish schools in California who sued the state over a law they say discriminates against children with disabilities have appealed a federal judge’s dismissal of their lawsuit.
The group asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down a state law that they argue excludes religious families from accessing special education funding for their children.
Becket, formerly the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and the Teach Coalition, an initiative of the Orthodox Union that advocates for equal funding in nonpublic schools, are backing the lawsuit.
“California is waging an indefensible and needless campaign against kids with disabilities just because they come from religious families,” Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a press release.
Chaya and Yoni Loffman, Fedora Nick and Morris Taxon and Sarah and Ariel Perets want to send their children with disabilities to schools that provide an education centered around their Jewish traditions and beliefs. Shalhevet High School and Yavneh Hebrew Academy are Jewish schools in Los Angeles that serve the needs of children with disabilities.
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities. It provides states with grants to fund special education services for students with disabilities, including speech-language pathology and audiology services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, as well as social work, school nursing and counseling services.
According to California, the law applies only to nonsectarian schools.
The parents claim in the lawsuit that the state statute forces them to choose between accessing those services and giving their children a Jewish education.
“Our son has to overcome many obstacles to have his unique needs met in the classroom, and California is making it even harder for him because of our faith,” Chaya and Yoni Loffman, Jewish parents of a child with a disability in Los Angeles, said in a Becket press release. “We pray that the court will stop this attack on children like ours and allow special education funding for every child with disabilities in California.”
Teach Coalition founder Maury Litwack said all children with disabilities, regardless of their religious beliefs, should have the same opportunity to receive a quality education and parents should never have to compromise on how or where their child is educated just because they are religious.