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Schools & School Boards — Jewish Custom Instruction Not Required Under IDEA

By: Deborah Elkins//August 15, 2017

Schools & School Boards — Jewish Custom Instruction Not Required Under IDEA

By: Deborah Elkins//August 15, 2017


M.L. v. Smith (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-174-17, 22 pp.) (Agee, J.) No. 15-1977, Aug. 14, 2017; USDC at Greenbelt, Md. (Grimm, J.) 4th Cir.

Holding: The 4th Circuit upholds a decision that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act does not require a school system to instruct a disabled student in the customs and practice of his Orthodox Judaism as part of a “free appropriate public education” under the IDEA.

The minor student was born in 2003 with Down Syndrome. He and his family are members of the Orthodox Jewish faith and reside in an Orthodox Jewish community in Montgomery County, Md.

Plaintiffs sought an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that incorporated goals and objectives designed to teach the student about the laws and customs of Orthodox Judaism. He had been enrolled, at his parents’ expense, in Sulam, a special education program that serves the Orthodox Jewish community. The student’s father, a rabbi, testified that all of his children are in private, religious schools that teach the Orthodox Jewish way of life.

On appeal, plaintiffs argue the district court erred in concluding that the IDEA does not require a school to provide religious or cultural instruction to disabled students as part of their IEPs. Plaintiffs contend the defendant-school system failed to provide the student with a FAPE in violation of federal and state law, despite their concession that the IEP was adequate in all other respects. We disagree with plaintiffs.

The district court was correct in holding that religious and cultural instruction does not fall within the school’s duty to provide a disabled student with access to the general curriculum. Under the IDEA, the school must only address the student’s individual needs to the extent it takes to provide that access. Defendant school system is not required to maximize the potential of handicapped children commensurate with the opportunity provided to other children.

Defendant offered uncontested evidence that it would make reasonable accommodations for the student’s religious preferences. Defendant accommodates students who maintain a kosher diet, and provides opportunities to practice certain prayers, as well as “places for students to come and have their prayers if they need be.”

Because the proposed IEP provided the student with a FAPE, it meets the requirements of the IDEA. Summary judgment for defendant is affirmed.

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