Supreme Court blocks dismantling of Jewish public school district

Tuesday, June 29, 1999

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted a stay of the latest state court ruling that would have shut down a public school district created for disabled children in a community of Orthodox Jews.

The continuing case of the Kiryas Joel School District in Orange County, N.Y., has been in and out of the courts since shortly after the district was created by the state Legislature and then-Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1989.

Last May, the New York Court of Appeals overturned the state Legislature's action authorizing the special school district where the Kiryas Joel villagers' 220 disabled children could be educated according to the Satmar Hasidic sect's beliefs. The state appeals court ruled that the Jewish school district “has the primary effect of advancing one religion over others and constitutes an impermissible religious accommodation” to the Hasidic Jews in the Kiryas Joel village.

The Supreme Court's June 21 action enables the school district to continue operations until the justices decide whether to grant full review of the latest state court ruling, perhaps this fall.

Marc Stern, an attorney with the American Jewish Congress, has opposed the school district on First Amendment grounds. He said that the stay was not unexpected. “I'm fairly sure [the court] will review the case,” Stern said.

But Stern said he was hoping that provisions would be made to “require the parties to have a plan” for what would be done if the Supreme Court struck down or refused to review the New York court's decision. He says he fears the matter will surface again if no alternative is established for the disabled Jewish children.