Good News for Students Enrolled in Private Special Education Schools with Religious Components
Updated: Feb 7
The following blog post is brought to you by Kelly Bronner, Esq., Associate Attorney at the Law Offices of Adam Dayan:
On January 3, 2022, our law firm secured on our client’s behalf a final decision awarding full tuition funding for our client’s tuition at a private special education school that has a religious component.
While we always argue that our clients should receive full funding for tuition at special education schools with a religious component, IHOs sometimes reject our arguments and deduct the percentage of the curriculum that is religious in nature from the award.
The IHO assigned to adjudicate our client’s matter found the religious aspect of the school curriculum “appropriate.” At impartial hearings, we always provide evidence that religious studies contribute to students’ overall academic and social-emotional development. The IHO in this matter accepted the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning in Espinoza et al v. Montana Department of Revenue, a decision from June 2020 which found that the state could not withhold public scholarship funds from students who wanted to attend religious private schools. For more information on Espinoza, please see our blog post from July 10, 2020.
The IHO in our client’s matter wrote, “The district cannot expect that the religious school and the religious student be treated differently than the non-religious school student” and “[t]o do otherwise would unconstitutionally penalize the religious school and the student.” This is because, when the Department of Education fails to offer a student a free appropriate public education, necessitating placement in a private school, it cannot then decline to fund the student’s entire program costs just because the program has a religious component.
This decision is a fair and equitable result for our client who was not adequately served by the Department of Education. It also makes a tangible difference to families. For this case in particular, full funding without a deduction for religious curriculum components means over $7,000 more in tuition funding.
We cannot guarantee that all IHO’s will follow this IHO’s lead. Unfortunately, the DOE also continues to ignore the decision and limit settlement offers to the secular portion of a student’s curriculum. However, we are encouraged by the Espinoza decision and will use it to our clients’ advantage whenever it is applicable.
If you are a parent seeking funding for a private special education school with a religious component and have questions about how this decision might affect your particular case, please contact our law office to discuss your specific circumstances.
Kudos to Amled Perez, Esq., Leah Rosner, Kelly Bronner, Esq., Janice Deutsch, and Dylan Dawson for their excellent work on this case!