Loffman v. California Department of Education
Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to help parents and their children with disabilities obtain equal educational opportunities as their nondisabled peers. IDEA provides federal funding for special education programs in schools across the country to make that possible. California also provides parallel state-level special education funding to support students with disabilities.
In California, parents may access special education funds to help send their children with disabilities to nonreligious private schools that will best serve their individual needs. But state law explicitly bans parents from using that money to send their children to religious schools, even when those are the schools best able to meet their children’s needs. California politicians are thus punishing religious parents, their children, and religious schools who would gladly accept students with disabilities, simply because the schools that would best meet these children’s needs are religious.
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Finding an education that accommodates unique needs and faith
Every parent that has a child with disabilities must navigate a complex system of services and resources to find the right educational fit for that child. Chaya and Yoni Loffman, Fedora Nick and Morris Taxon, and Sarah and Ariel Perets are Jewish parents in California who have the obligation of providing their children with an education that reflects their religious values. These parents want to find schools that not only will equip their children with the tools necessary to flourish, but also with an education structured around the Jewish tradition.
Shalhevet High School and Yavneh Hebrew Academy are top-notch Jewish schools in Los Angeles that provide what Jewish parents want most: a premier education that seamlessly integrates their shared Jewish faith. Shalhevet and Yavneh also desire to provide a safe and supportive environment that offers a distinctively Jewish education to children with disabilities.
Religious children with disabilities left behind by California politicians
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law ensuring that all children with disabilities in America can receive an education that is right for them. To accomplish this, IDEA provides grants to states in exchange for a free and appropriate public education that is tailored to each child’s unique needs. These grants pay for essential resources like assistive technology, staff training, special education programs, and other services. Like other states, California supplements federal IDEA funding with state special education funding.
IDEA also provides for students to be placed in private schools that can meet their needs when public schools cannot offer a free and appropriate education. In California, however, legislators have excluded religious parents and schools from accessing federal and state special education funding and services. Even though private non-religious schools are eligible under California law, and even though a recent poll shows that only around a quarter of Californians think that the state’s public schools are doing a good job of helping children with disabilities, parents are unable to send their children to religious schools that will meet their needs.
Additionally, religious schools are unable to receive the support necessary to fully welcome all students with disabilities into their communities. This leaves many religious families in California without the ability to give their children an education that is best for them. It also disproportionately affects lower-income families, as children from low-income households are more likely to have a disability than children living above the poverty line.
The law protects children with disabilities from discrimination by Sacramento politicians
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. 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.
As the Supreme Court has consistently and recently affirmed, public benefits that are open to private secular organizations must also be open to religious ones. Denying religious parents of children with disabilities the opportunity to send their children to religious schools clearly violates the law and must end. It also goes against what the state’s residents believe—according to a recent poll, nearly 60% of Californians think that children with disabilities should be able to use federal and state funding to go to religious schools, but the state’s elected representatives are making that impossible.
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, is supporting Becket’s effort to protect religious parents, their children and religious schools’ right to access special education funding in the state of California.
Importance to Religious Liberty:
Education: Religious schools should be able to participate in publicly available programs without discrimination, and religious school students should be able to participate in these programs on equal footing as students who attend non-religious schools.