East Ramapo schools: Judge rejects lawsuit vs. state over special-ed placements

Posted on 08 October 2013 by Community Voice NY

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WHITE PLAINS — A federal judge has dismissed the East Ramapo school district’s lawsuit against the state Education Department and its commissioners seeking validation for the district’s practice of sending students with disabilities to private religious schools when public-school spots were available.

U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel granted the state Education Department’s motion to dismiss East Ramapo’s complaint, citing the guarantee of state sovereign immunity provided by the 11th Amendment.

The district’s next steps are unclear. It could appeal the Oct. 3 decision or pursue its case in the state courts. David Butler, the district’s lawyer, and schools Superintendent Joel Klein did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The state Education Department and Attorney General’s Office, which represented the state, also did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

In filing the suit in March, the district had asked the court to “clarify its rights and obligations” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. East Ramapo’s lawyers argued primarily that the law supports the district’s practice of having one administrator settle disputes with parents who challenge placements made for their children by the Committee on Special Education.

As a result of such challenges, many Orthodox Jewish and Hasidic students in East Ramapo have been sent to Yiddish-speaking programs outside the district at the public’s expense. In these cases, parents want their children to be schooled in an environment that best accommodates their language and cultural needs, school officials have said. East Ramapo officials have argued the placements save money by avoiding further litigation with the parents.

Resources to accommodate the children were slim to none in East Ramapo until this fall, when the district added new Spanish- and Yiddish-language special-education classes. The changes followed several citations from the state Education Department, which has said the district’s special-education placement methods violate federal and state laws. Subsequently, the district temporarily lost state aid.

Over time, the district expects to recoup the costs of starting the bilingual program and save transportation costs for sending students to out-of-district locations like Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic enclave in Orange County.

The former East Ramapo administrator who helped design the program, Elie Wizman, recently took a job in the Kiryas Joel school district.

Seibel’s decision follows another ruling on Sept. 30 that upholds several claims and dismisses others in a parent-driven lawsuit against the district.

Parents in the Advocates for Justice case allege, among other things, that the district is using the IDEA settlement process to provide a publicly funded Jewish education in private schools to students who could be properly educated in the district’s public schools, Seibel noted in her Oct. 3rd decision.

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