Maryland School District Does Not Have to Fund Religious Education, Court Rules

A Maryland public school district does not have to fund the religious education of a Jewish student, according to a ruling from a three judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Akiva and Shani Leiman had sued Montgomery County Public Schools, arguing that the district had to fund the Orthodox Jewish education of their intellectually disabled son, called "M.L." in court documents.

In a unanimous decision released Monday, the panel concluded that Montgomery County did not have to fund the Orthodox Jewish education, affirming a lower court decision from 2015.

Circuit Court Judge G. Steven Agee authored the majority opinion, stating that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act "does not mandate that a school instruct a student in his preferred religious practices."

"MCPS provided M.L. with equal access to an education, on the same basis as it provides to all other students with disabilities," wrote Judge Agee.

"It does not provide religious and cultural instruction to its students with or without disabilities and has no duty under the IDEA to administer such instruction to M.L."

The case came from an effort of the Leiman family and Montgomery County to create an Individualized Education Program for their intellectually disabled son.

While the parents wanted their son to remain a student at Sulam, an Orthodox Jewish school, Montgomery County wanted to place him at a public elementary school.

The Leimans filed a complaint against the school district, arguing that they should be reimbursed for the costs of having their son enrolled at Sulam.

The parents expressed concern that their son needed to have Orthodox Jewish instruction both at home and in the school.

In August 2015, District Court Judge Paul Grimm ruled in favor of the school district, arguing that "plaintiffs have not shown that the 'public school system failed to provide a free and appropriate public education.'"

The Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State celebrated the Fourth Circuit panel's ruling.

Americans United had joined an amicus brief filed in the case in 2016 which argued that the family was not entitled to taxpayer funds for their son's religious education.

"The Montgomery County public schools are willing and able to provide an appropriate education for the Leimans' son," said Americans United Legal Director Richard B. Katskee in a statement released Monday.

"The family is free to seek private religious instruction for their child, but they're not entitled to have taxpayers cover the cost."

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook