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Orthodox Jews sue California for discriminating against children with religious disabilities

By 03/13/2023 7:33 PMNo CommentsBy YidInfo Staff

A California rule that prohibits religious parents and schools from utilizing special education funding to support children with disabilities was challenged by a group of Jewish parents and schools in a lawsuit filed today. In the case of Loffman v. California Department of Education, a group of parents who want to enroll their kids in Orthodox Jewish schools is unable to do so because state and federal special education funding cannot be used at religious private schools in California but can be used at secular private schools.

Federal legislation known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees that all American children with disabilities can access a free, suitable public education that fulfills their requirements.

With the support of this financing, special education programs, assistive technology, and other services can be provided at a reduced cost. IDEA gives these funds to states to help disabled children get a free, suitable education, including enrolling them in private schools when public schools cannot satisfy their needs.

In other states, private schools can be either secular or religious, depending on what is best for the particular child. But in California, the Legislature has expressly forbidden religious schools from participating in this benefits scheme and only permits secular private schools to do so.

According to a recent survey, nearly 60% of Californians want to see religious schools, parents, and their disabled children treated equally under the law. This court case seeks to achieve that goal.

Orthodox Jewish parents like Chaya and Yoni Loffman, Fedora Nick and Morris Taxon, and Sarah and Ariel Perets want to enroll their children with special needs in institutions that offer an education that enables them to realize their full potential and one that is centered on Jewish religious principles and practices.

Jewish institutions in Los Angeles, such as Shalhevet High School and Yavneh Hebrew Academy, strive to meet the needs of children with disabilities while delivering a top-notch education.

Yet Sacramento’s legislators have made it difficult by forbidding religious institutions from using publicly available cash to assist children with impairments.

Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, stated that denying Jewish children with disabilities equal access to unique education advantages required a specific type of chutzpah. California policymakers have a choice of two ways to stop this illegal discrimination.

They may either shamelessly argue in court for the right to discriminate, or they can amend the law that harms children with disabilities.

A Maine legislation that intended to accomplish precisely what the California law does here—allow private secular schools and families to access public money but ban religious schools and families from the same access—was recently overturned by the Supreme Court in Carson v. Makin.

Carson expands on a string of rulings that state that religious individuals cannot be barred from government benefits programs solely because they are holy.

Rassbach said that California’s elected authorities ought to want to assist rather than harm the most defenseless members of society.

There is no justification for upholding this antiquated law rather than granting disabled children equal access to benefits.

The Orthodox Union, the largest umbrella organization for Orthodox Jews in the country, which represents nearly 1,000 congregations and more than 400 Jewish non-public K–12 schools nationwide, is supporting Becket’s campaign to safeguard religious families and their children’s rights to special education funding in the state of California.



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bobby bracros

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