Thursday, February 20, 2014

Yehuda Weissmandle will defend East Ramapo Special Education Practices! Way to go!

East Ramapo President Yehuda Weissmandl
East Ramapo school officials say they will continue to defend the special education practices by taking their case to an appellate court.

The district plans to appeal a recent state Supreme Court decision upholding the state Education Department’s finding that the district broke the law by placing students with disabilities in private religious schools when less restrictive options were available.

Under federal education law, school districts must educate disabled students in the “least restrictive environment” — generally, in an environment that includes students who do not have disabilities.

But East Ramapo officials have long argued that agreeing to pay the tuition for some disabled children to attend private Jewish yeshivas outside the district — essentially placing them in a more “restrictive environment” — is a win-win solution. It’s cost-effective for the district, they say, and appeases parents who challenge the district’s placement decisions.

The parents are mostly from the district’s large Orthodox Jewish community who want their children educated in an environment that accommodates their religious customs, like offering kosher lunches and keeping boys and girls separated, officials have said.

East Ramapo Board of Education President Yehuda Weissmandl explained the district’s position in a letter to The Journal News published Thursday.

“If parents prefer a private school — which in almost every case costs about the same or less than it would cost to educate the student in a public school — there is no financial reason for the district not to settle,” he wrote.

The Education Department says the way the district operates violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. East Ramapo challenged the findings twice and lost, most recently when a state Supreme Court justice upheld the state’s position Dec. 30.

School officials maintain that a “clarification” of its “rights and obligations” under IDEA and a favorable ruling by the Appellate Division will save money in the long run; they argue that settling student placement disputes with parents is cheaper than holding an impartial hearing and litigating the case without being sure the district will win. If the district loses an appeal, it must pay the parents’ attorneys fees.

The appeal has not yet been filed. When it is, it will be the latest legal action undertaken by the district, which plans to spend about $2.66 million on legal fees this school year as it continues several other lengthy lawsuits.

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