Benefits restored to Montana’s disabled children of faith
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed suit
against the state agency in March on behalf of a hearing-impaired
preschooler. Although she qualified for benefits under the Individuals
with Disabilities in Education Act, agency officials denied tuition assistance
to the child and her parents because she was enrolled in a faith-based
preschool. The agency has now agreed to provide the tuition aid to her
and to other qualified applicants.
“All disabled children are
equally worthy of a good education. Parents should be able to choose the
school that best suits their children’s needs,” said Senior Legal
Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Simply put, when the government provides financial help to disabled children at private schools, it cannot exclude children who attend religious ones.”
participates in IDEA, which provides benefits to disabled children.
Among the benefits is tuition aid for use at private schools. Prior to
the lawsuit, Montana prohibited students from receiving tuition aid if
they attended a faith-based school.
began attending the faith-based ABC-123 University in Columbus. The
state-run Stillwater/Sweet Grass Special Services Cooperative previously
agreed to pay for her schooling three days a week but later revoked the
tuition aid. The cooperative cited a newly adopted statewide policy of
denying tuition aid to students who attend private religious preschools
for special education services.
with the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction on behalf of the
preschooler. That led to the filing of a federal lawsuit, Wilson v. Montana Office of Public Instruction, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, Billings Division.
According to the voluntary dismissal
filed Monday in light of the agency’s settlement of the case, the
parents of the preschooler will receive the tuition money they were owed
to send their child to ABC-123 University. Also, the Montana Office of
Public Instruction has agreed that it will no longer disqualify disabled
children eligible for IDEA benefits from receiving tuition aid simply
because they attend a faith-based school.
officials have done the right thing in recognizing that they cannot
favor certain views over others and deprive disabled children of
government benefits simply because of their faith,” added Litigation
Counsel Rory Gray. “The First Amendment forbids that type of hostility
toward religion. We hope Montana will serve as a model to encourage
other states to avoid or eliminate such misguided policies.”
- Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Tuh-DESS’-ko)
Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal
organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out
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