In this column, special education lawyer and advocate Regina Skyer will address reader’s questions and concerns regarding their child’s special education needs, as well as the services, programs and entitlements available within New York City. She asks readers to send their questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on how the column works, click here.
Question: Can I bring a lawsuit against a yeshiva that refused admission to my child due to his disability?
Answer: The Americans with Disability Act, commonly referred to as the ADA, does apply to private schools. Specifically, Title III of this federal act prohibits discrimination by public accommodations (schools are included in that definition). They (the school) must eliminate unnecessary eligibility standards that deny access to individuals with disabilities and make reasonable modifications in policies, practices and procedures that deny access to individuals with disabilities unless a fundamental alteration in the nature of the program would result. They must also furnish auxiliary aids such as interpreters, note takers or readers when necessary to ensure effective communication, unless an undue burden or fundamental alteration would result. It is very hard to prove discrimination, it must be a willful act.
However, Title III does not cover religious institutions. Thus, private schools which are directly operated by religious institutions are not covered by the ADA. Furthermore, the ADA does not contain specific special education rules or requirements.
But in some instances, where religious schools get public funding, they can be held to the ADA’s standards and found liable if they fail to meet those standards. If your religious school receives public funding, it might be worth checking with a lawyer to ascertain whether the school is guilty of discrimination under the ADA.
The United States Attorney General – US Department of Justice, is responsible for investigating discrimination complaints under Title III and enforcing this part of the ADA. If you wish to pursue this any further, I suggest contacting this office by going to their website: www. justice.gov/ag.
The information in this column is not intended as formal legal advice and is given without the establishment of any attorney client relationship.
Regina Skyer started her career as a social worker in 1973, working in a clinical capacity in the field of special education. She was one of the founders and directors of Summit Camp and Travel, the City Lights Social Program, City Lights Supportive Apartments and Skyer Consultation Center. She co-authored the book, “What Do You Do After High School: The Nationwide Guide to Services and Programs for Learning Disabled Students.” She entered law school in 1988 with the sole purpose of becoming a fierce advocate and litigator for “her kids.” Ms. Skyer’s firm is the largest in New York City that handles special education matters.