ACLJ Scores Victory for Religious School After County Commissioner Threatens Shutdown

By 

Jordan Sekulow

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November 24, 2020

Since launching our School Choice Initiative to support parents who felt their kids were being denied educational opportunities due to Coronavirus school closures and at-home learning, the ACLJ has been scoring coast-to-coast victories for American families. Our legal team continues to work with families across the country to find outside-of-the-box solutions to ensure that every child has access to a quality education, particularly now during school closures and virtual learning. We have been contacting school administrators, urging them to work with these families, as they are obligated to do. Just recently, our legal team was retained by Congregation Mesifta Ohr Hatalmud, a Jewish high school in New York, in response to the Orange County Health Commissioner’s order demanding the closure of schools in areas with a high rate of COVID-19 infection. Per the text of the order, all public, private, and religious schools and educational facilities were required to close when the 7-day rolling average percent positivity rate for COVID-19 exceeded 9% for the village, town, municipality, or city whose residents attend those schools. Currently, this includes all schools and educational facilities that service residents of the Village of Kiryas Joel – a Jewish community within the town of Palm Tree, New York. We sent a letter explaining that the order appeared to be overbroad. We sent our client’s reopening plan and confirmed that the school has been and continues to be in full compliance with all health guidelines. We spoke with elected officials and confirmed that the relevant numbers for the town in which the school is located are simply not in the range described. We also asked that the school be immediately removed from the list of closures and that they be allowed to continue providing educational services for their students in a safe, healthy, and responsible manner. Within two days, the health commissioner had agreed to remove the school from the closure list, and the school has now officially reopened. In many cases, parents have contacted us because their children don’t have the proper equipment they need such as laptops or good internet connectivity. We’ve been able to facilitate the provision of laptops to multiple kids and internet access for their homes. As we’ve reported , we’ve also been contacted by families with children who have specific, special needs and we have advocated on their behalf with school officials. We’ve been contacted by several single parents who are finding it especially difficult to manage their children’s educational needs during this difficult time. What’s unconscionable is that in some cases, these parents haven’t received any guidance, or even a response, from their children’s schools. As we previously stated : A disabled parent in Georgia with 2 sons – both suffering from asthma – contacted us because the boys needed laptops in order to complete assignments on the school’s remote learning platform. The ACLJ sent a letter to the school after the frustrated parent’s request went unanswered. The school responded and provided the parent with laptops for each of her sons. This is exactly the kind of situation we are working nationwide to resolve. Similarly, the ACLJ helped families in Texas whose children didn’t have computers needed for distance learning. Our legal team’s guidance assisted the parents in obtaining these resources. We were able to assist four more families in California who needed help navigating childcare and student supervision issues. The ACLJ was able to direct the parents to the proper state-issued resource which answered questions about paid time off from work and provided information about supervised child care centers. These schools are supported by taxpayers. They are obligated to provide these families with help and guidance. We also recently told you about another victory we obtained on behalf of a family who was having a difficult time getting their school to fulfill their child’s Individualized Education Program: In one recent victory, our legal team sent an Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) letter on behalf of an Idaho family whose child had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that was not being fulfilled. The day after receiving our letter, the school contacted the family and requested a meeting with them to discuss the issues the family was facing. The family and the school reached an arrangement that included in-person schooling two days a week for the IEP student, as well as transportation for the student on those days. The school also provided the family with a wireless hot-spot and two laptops to assist the IEP student and the family’s two other children in their remote learning. The family was very grateful for our assistance in facilitating discussion with the school; and while more in-person education for the IEP student would be ideal, the assistance that the school has now provided is helping improve the situation. In another incredibly heartwarming victory : In California, we represent the family of a child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Before the COVID-19 school closures, he was cognitively at grade level, but emotionally very immature where he could not function in a typical classroom. The child was placed into a special day class for behavior-challenged children, and his class had modified behavior therapy built into the classroom instruction. The curriculum also included special visits with the school psychologist to help them deal with unfavorable outcomes and make better choices. It was a small class, around 6 students, and the class covered 4th, 5th, and 6th grade subject matter. He also had weekly speech services, individual and group, and Occupational Therapy (OT) consults per his IEP. The child would have been returning as a 5th grader this fall had the school not closed due to Coronavirus precautions. Unfortunately, during the school shutdown, he was having daily meltdowns over even minimal schoolwork that was assigned to him, and he regressed because his IEP was not being followed. His parents had him tested at a Kumon learning center, and he was no longer testing at his class level or age. He was enrolled at Kumon for several hours a week at additional expense to work on his IEP, behavioral issues, and OT. His parents requested that the school reimburse them for the cost of the program now that the school is not meeting in-person this fall. Now in a HUGE VICTORY for the family, we have obtained a signed settlement agreement from the school district for $1,680 to reimburse the parents. We are only waiting on the school board to ratify this agreement at their next meeting. We appreciate these schools that have worked with us to provide customized, out-of-the-box solutions to parents and kids during these unprecedented times. However, our work continues. There are still parents struggling to balance their own jobs and their children’s education. The ACLJ does not want any family to feel stranded or helpless during this confusing and trying time.