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Parents of disabled kids sue California for funding for religious schools

About 100 parents, children and Jewish leaders rallied July 21 outside the federal courthouse in Los Angeles as Becket Law began arguing a case on behalf of Jewish parents seeking public funding to educate their special needs children. Becket Law photo

LOS ANGELES (BP) – Three Orthodox Jewish families and two Jewish schools are suing the California Department of Education for excluding private religious schools from government funding to teach children with disabilities.

California allows nonreligious private schools to receive federal and state funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but excludes private religious schools from the program, attorneys representing the group assert.

“California politicians cannot deny children with disabilities the safe and supportive learning environments they deserve because they are religious, nor can they exclude schools from participating in the program simply because they are religious,” the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing the plaintiffs, said at becketlaw.org. “Parents of children with disabilities already face complex challenges in finding the right school for their children, and California is making it even more challenging for religious parents.”

In Loffman v. California Board of Education, Becket cites the June 21, 2022, U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin, that struck down a similar law in Maine that allowed government funding for private secular schools but not private religious schools.

In Carson, the court said the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not allow governments to categorically exclude religious families and schools from a government-created benefit available to other private schools.

“Carson builds on a long line of cases holding that religious people cannot be excluded from government benefits programs solely because they are religious,” Becket said.

Parents, children and Jewish leaders rallied July 21 outside the federal courthouse in Los Angeles as Becket presented its case. Among them was Shaya Loffman, a plaintiff in the case along with her husband Yoni.

“Politicians in this state are using religion as an excuse to deny my son and countless other children with disabilities a safe and supportive learning environment that meets all their needs,” Loffman said. “No parent should have to choose between raising their child in safety and providing their child with the tools that they need to reach their full potential. I pray that the court will allow my son to receive the supportive religious and educational environment that he needs to flourish.”

Other plaintiffs in the case are Fedora Nick and Morris Taxon, Sarah and Ariel Perets, Shalhevet High School and Yavneh Hebrew Academy.

The IDEA funds are intended first for public school education, but may be used in private schools when public schools aren’t able to provide the education the special needs children require. California, which subsidizes the federal funds, denies the funding to private religious schools. The plaintiffs assert that their children cannot receive the education they need in public schools, but can receive such education in the religious schools noted above.

The case, filed March 23 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, is ongoing, with additional information here.