If you are the parent of a learning disabled student, you know how difficult it is to find services to deliver the mandate of a “Free Appropriate Public Education” or “FAPE” under special education laws. While federal laws apply to any school receiving federal funds, many private schools do not receive such funds. In such cases, the only protection families have is to apply Michigan’s disability discrimination law, the “Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act” or “PWDCRA.”
NachtLaw sued a private, religious school that denied admission to a learning disabled 9th grade girl. The school claims that the PWDCRA does not apply to them, and besides, that the courts may not inquire into the decisions of religious schools because they necessarily require scrutiny into their ecclesiastical practices. If the school’s position is correct, then learning disabled students could be routinely denied admission and services and have no protection under the law.
NachtLaw believes that position is extreme, and that routine admissions decisions do not implicate the school’s religious freedom. The trial court agreed, and held that Michigan’s anti-discrimination law, the PWDCRA, does apply to the school. However, the school appealed, and the Michigan Court of Appeals unfortunately reversed.
The case is now pending before the Michigan Supreme Court, on NachtLaw’s application for leave to appeal.
Nicholas Roumel and Charlotte Croson represent the student and her family. The case is Winkler vs. Marist Fathers of Detroit, Inc.