Law & Courts

High Court Issues Stay in Long-Running Kiryas Joel Dispute

By Mark Walsh — July 14, 1999 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a New York state court ruling that struck down a state law authorizing the Hasidic Jewish village of Kiryas Joel to maintain its own public school district to serve children with disabilities.

The high court’s issuance of a stay last month in Pataki v. Grumet (Case No. 98-1932) might signal the justices’ willingness to take a new look at the continuing legal controversy over the Kiryas Joel district.

Separately, during the last days of its 1998-99 term last month, the court declined to review the appeal of a church group whose request to use a school for weekend religious services was turned down by a New York City subdistrict. And it ordered a new round of oral arguments in a case from Louisiana involving school board redistricting under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In the Kiryas Joel case, the Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that a New York state law establishing a school district for the community of Satmar Hasidic Jews was a form of “religious favoritism” that violated the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against government establishment of religion.

The 1989 state law at issue in the case of Board of Education of the Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet had been geared specifically to the Hasidic village about 50 miles northwest of New York City.

Most of the village’s 5,000 children attend private yeshivas. The public school district was created to address the needs of about 200 students with serious disabilities.

Struggling for Neutrality

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling five years ago, the New York legislature has struggled to aid the village by enacting a neutral law that would allow for the formation of a school district in Kiryas Joel and a small number of other communities in the state.

Two such laws have been struck down by the state courts. Most recently, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, overturned a 1997 law that authorized municipalities to form their own school districts if they met certain enrollment and population criteria.

The court ruled in May that the law potentially benefits only two of the state’s 1,545 municipalities, including Kiryas Joel.

“The non-neutral effect of the statute is to secure for one religious community a unique and significant benefit--a ‘public school’ where all the students adhere to the tenets of a particular religion--unavailable to other similarly situated communities,” the state high court said in a 4-3 ruling.

The ruling meant a possible dismantling of the village district by this summer. But Republican Gov. George E. Pataki, joined by the Kiryas Joel district and the surrounding Monroe-Woodbury district, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of the state court’s ruling.

On June 21, the high court granted the stay, delaying the effect of the New York Court of Appeals’ ruling until the justices decide whether to give full consideration to the Kiryas Joel case during their next term.

In their appeal, Gov. Pataki and the school districts argue that the latest law authorizing a district for Kiryas Joel met the test described in concurring opinions by Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy in the 1994 Supreme Court case. The two justices went along with striking down the 1989 law that was tailored to the village of Kiryas Joel, but they said a generally applicable statute that employed neutral educational criteria for authorizing the formation of a district would not violate the Constitution.

The justices will likely decide sometime early this fall whether to grant a full review of the Kiryas Joel case.

Church Services

On June 24, the high court declined without comment to hear the appeal of a church based in Far Rockaway, N.Y., that had sued in federal court after a subdistrict of the New York City school system refused to let it rent a school for Sunday worship services.

The Full Gospel Tabernacle was represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal organization formed by the religious broadcaster Pat Robertson. The church argued that the refusal by Community School District 27 in the borough of Queens to rent out a school for weekend services was a violation of its constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.

The subdistrict rented out its buildings to various other community groups, including the American Legion, labor unions, and religious groups that used the facilities for musical performances. But the district’s rules barred religious services in its facilities.

Both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, based in New York, ruled for the school district. The district court held that a public school is a limited public forum under the First Amendment and that the district was not required to make its facilities available to all groups.

In its appeal in Full Gospel Tabernacle v. Community School District 27 (No. 98-1714), the ACLJ argued that under the district’s policy, groups renting space in schools “may sing religious hymns for musical entertainment, but not for the worship of God. They may hold ceremonies to honor the mayor, but not the Maker. Such blatant anti-religious discrimination violates the U.S. Constitution.”

Voting-Rights Case

In an action not seen at the Supreme Court since 1991, the justices ordered the case of Reno v. Bossier Parish School Board (No. 98-405) restored to its docket for reargument this fall.

The court was apparently unable to reach a decision in a case that was among the last of the term to be argued. But it likely wasn’t a lack of time that prevented a decision, but the subject matter.

The case involves a school district’s compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The 19,000-student Bossier Parish district in northwest Louisiana has been battling for years to win federal approval of its 1992 redistricting plan.

The district is a covered jurisdiction under Section 5 of the voting-rights law, meaning it must win approval from the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal district court in Washington for any change in voting procedures, including redistricting plans.

As of 1992, the district had never elected a black school board member. The Justice Department sought to require the district to adopt a redistricting plan with two majority-black voting districts.

The federal district court in Washington has twice ruled that the school district had legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for adopting a plan with no majority-black districts.

In the most recent appeal, the Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to decide whether voting districts that are drawn with a discriminatory purpose can be rejected even if they do not leave minority voters worse off than before.

The justices on June 24 ordered the case reargued and asked the parties to file new court papers addressing such issues as whether the Justice Department or the covered jurisdiction bears the burden of proof when a redistricting plan is enacted with a discriminatory but non-retrogressive purpose.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the July 14, 1999 edition of Education Week as High Court Issues Stay in Long-Running Kiryas Joel Dispute

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Supreme Court Blocks Biden Vaccine Mandate Applying to Schools in Much of the Country
The justices ruled 6-3 to stay an Occupational Health and Safety Administration rule that covered schools in 26 states and two territories.
4 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo last April.
The U.S. Supreme Court blocked a federal vaccine mandate for large employers, including school districts in about half the states.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP
Law & Courts Students Lose Appeal on Right to Civics Education, But Win Praise From Judges Anyway
A federal appellate court panel commended Rhode Island students for the novel effort, but said Supreme Court precedent stood in the way.
3 min read
Scales of justice and Gavel on wooden table and Lawyer or Judge working with agreement in Courtroom, Justice and Law concept.
Pattanaphong Khuankaew/iStock
Law & Courts High Court Appears Skeptical of Vaccine Mandate Covering Schools in Over Half the States
The Biden administration's OSHA rule applies to private employers with 100 or more workers, as well as school districts in 26 states.
4 min read
The Supreme Court shown Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, in Washington. The Supreme Court is taking up two major Biden administration efforts to bump up the nation's vaccination rate against COVID-19 at a time of spiking coronavirus cases because of the omicron variant.
The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing two Biden administration efforts to bump up the nation's vaccination rate against COVID-19.
Evan Vucci/AP
Law & Courts Federal Judge Blocks Biden's COVID Vaccine Mandate for Head Start Teachers
In a challenge by 24 states, the judge's preliminary injunction also blocks a mask mandate for Head Start students age 2 or older.
4 min read
COVID face masks and gavel
iStock/Getty Images Plus