Jenks v. Spry (Kimery v. Broken Arrow Public Schools) (2011 – current)

Image: Jenks v. Spry (Kimery v. Broken Arrow Public Schools) (2011 – current)

Video Credit: Henry Scholarship Program

Stephanie and Russell Spry just want to keep doing what they have always done—give their disabled son the best education they can. It has always been difficult since the public school system is not designed to deal with children who have disabilities like severe autism, meaning that disabled children were simply “warehoused” or worse, bullied mercilessly by other children. The Sprys were overjoyed when the State of Oklahoma set up a scholarship program allowing them to attend schools that are designed to teach the disabled.

But in an outrageous move, Tulsa-area public school districts have sued Garrett Spry and three other disabled children—their own students—and their families to try and keep them from getting the scholarships the State has promised. In an effort to get more public funds, these school districts would rather these children be “warehoused” in the public school system than get an education from teachers who know how to teach the disabled. And they have not shied away from spending thousands of taxpayer dollars to do it.

The State of Oklahoma passed a law in 2010 that gives certain students with disabilities the right to receive a scholarship from the State of Oklahoma to facilitate their attendance in a participating nonpublic school. That law, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program Act, went into effect in August, 2010. While the vast majority of the state’s 541 school districts immediately complied with the law, a handful decided that doing so would violate Oklahoma’s Blaine Amendment–a bigoted provision that targets religious groups–and unilaterally (without court sanction) refused to comply with the law.

Under pressure from the state’s Attorney General, the districts claimed to reverse course and begin complying with the law. But in fact, their “compliance” appears to the affected parents and students as retaliation for seeking a scholarship. The districts allegedly reduced the eligible parents’ awards and significantly complicated their attempts to claim scholarships.

The school districts indicated in January 2011 that they would sue the state Attorney General regarding the constitutionality of the scholarship program. After waiting in limbo for nearly four months, in April 2011 twelve of the special needs students and their parents, represented by the Becket Fund, sued the districts.

Then the State Legislature stepped in and solved the problem in the summer of 2011 by removing responsibility for the Scholarship Program from the school districts. That led to the parents dismissing their lawsuit; problem solved.

But the school districts couldn’t take no for an answer from the State Legislature. So in a cowardly move, instead of suing the state, last fall they sued disabled children and their parents in state court in an effort to deny them the scholarships. The Becket Fund is defending these disabled children and their families in Oklahoma state court. The Oklahoma Solicitor General will also argue in favor of the scholarship program.

On March 27, 2012, an Oklahoma District Judge ruled against the families stating that the program was unconstitutional. The Becket Fund appealed the decision, and on April 18, 2012, the Judge ruled that the program can remain intact while the appeal is pending.

On June 18th, the Becket Fund filed their brief before the Oklahoma Supreme Court noting Blaine Amendments could not be used to prevent religious students or schools from participating in State programs that are available to everyone else.  And further noted that the “U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that these amendments have ‘a shameful pedigree,’ which the High Court does ‘not hesitate to disavow.’”

Victoriously, on November 20, 2012, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program, allowing hundreds of children with disabilities to continue attending schools suited for their special needs.

“This is a great victory for both religious freedom and the disabled,” said Eric Baxter, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the parents of disabled students who were sued by their public school districts.  “The message from the Supreme Court today is unequivocal: These school districts should stop spending taxpayer dollars suing their most vulnerable students and focus on what they are supposed to be doing—teaching kids. Let’s hope the school districts drop their paranoia that allowing disabled kids to go to a private religious school of their choice somehow creates an official state church for Oklahoma.”

The Court’s decision didn’t reach the merits of the case; rather, it ruled that the school districts did not have the right to bring the lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s decision to fund the scholarships.

“The best thing about the scholarships is that they allow our clients to get the education that the public schools just don’t have the ability to provide,” said Baxter. “The Supreme Court’s ruling means that the school districts don’t ‘own’ their students, and the Legislature can act to help those in need.”

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For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Emily Hardman, Communications Director, at ehardman@becketfund.org or call 202.349.7224.

 

 

  • Media Essentials
  • Press Releases
  • Legal Documents
  • In the news
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Press Releases:

Press Release,  Oklahoma Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Disabled Students (November 20, 2012)

Press ReleaseBattle for Disabled Children’s Scholarships Begins before OK Supreme Court (June 18, 2012)

Press ReleaseScholarship Program for Disabled Children Gets Second Chance (April 18, 2012)

Press ReleaseOklahoma District Judge Rules Against Disabled Students’ Opportunity For Equal Education (March 27, 2012)

 

Top Legal Documents:

Oklahoma Supreme Court’s Opinion (November 20, 2012)

Becket Fund’s Oklahoma Supreme Court Brief (June 2012)

School District’s Oklahoma Supreme Court Brief (June 2012)

Becket Fund’s Original Complaint (April 2011)

Judge’s Entry of Judgment (April 16, 2012)

Judge’s Order Staying Judgment Pending Appeal (April 17, 2012)

 

Top Stories:

Oklahoma vouchers for special-needs students totaled $1.6 million last year, Tulsa World, September 16, 2013

Oklahoma legislator’s bill criticizes districts suing parents over school vouchers, Tulsa World, March 7, 2013

Inconsistencies apparent in Oklahoma schools’ private funds policy, The Oklahoman, June 26, 2012

Jim Crow-era measures used against vouchers, The Oklahoman, June 7, 2012

Questions Remain about Oklahoma Special Ed. Vouchers, Nirvi Shah, On Special Education, November 9, 2011

Parents Drop Private-School Voucher Lawsuit, Kim Archer, Tulsa World, November 4, 2011

School Voucher Law Under Scrutiny, Kim Archer, Tulsa World, October 23, 2011

Top Legal Documents:

Oklahoma Supreme Court’s Opinion (November 20, 2012)

Becket Fund’s Oklahoma Supreme Court Brief (June 2012)

School District’s Oklahoma Supreme Court Brief (June 2012)

Becket Fund’s Original Complaint (April 2011)

Judge’s Entry of Judgment (April 16, 2012)

Judge’s Order Staying Judgment Pending Appeal (April 17, 2012)

 

 

Religion and the Equal Protection Clause (August 2012)

Becket Fund’s Oklahoma Supreme Court Brief (June 2012)

School District’s Oklahoma Supreme Court Brief (June 2012)

Judge’s Order Staying Judgment Pending Appeal (April 17, 2012)

Judge’s Entry of Judgment (April 16, 2012)

Defendant’s Reply in Support of their Motion for Summary Judgement (December 21, 2011)

Plaintiff’s Reply to Attorney General’s Brief on the Merits of the Constitutional Claims (December 21, 2011)

Plaintiff’s Reply Brief in Support of their Motion for Summary Judgment (December 21, 2011)

Defendants’ Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment (December 5, 2011)

Response in Opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support (December 2, 2011)

Attorney General’s Brief on the Merits of the Constitutional Claims (December 1, 2011)

Opening Brief in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgement (November 17, 2011)

Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support (November 15, 2011)

Kimery’s Complaint (April 2011)

Letter from state Attorney General to the Defendants (January 2011)

Representative Nelson comments on the 2011 statutory amendments (May 2011)

A summary of the underlying statute (June 2010)

Letter from Senator Anderson (the bill’s Senate sponsor) (October 2010)

September 16, 2013, Oklahoma vouchers for special-needs students totaled $1.6 million last year, Tulsa World

March 7, 2013, Oklahoma legislator’s bill criticizes districts suing parents over school vouchers, Tulsa World

November 21, 2012, Supreme court tosses challenge to Lindsey Nicole Henry law, Tulsa World

November 21, 2012, Oklahoma Supreme Court strikes down lawsuit challenging voucher program, The Oklahoman

November 21, 2012, Court: Schools Can’t Sue Parents of Disabled Children over Religious Vouchers, Christianity Today

September 14, 2012, Oklahoma special-needs scholarship law has ironic consequence, The Oklahoman

August 14, 2012, Religion and the Equal Protection Clause, Northwestern University School of Law

July 17, 2012, ‘Win’ in special-needs lawsuit would harm many Oklahoma students, The Oklahoman

July 2, 2012, Henry Scholarships & Why Educational Choice Matters, Janet Barresi, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

June 30, 2012, Districts call law unconstitutional, Tulsa World

June 30, 2012, Disabled Children to Pay the Price of Treating Ideas as Principles, The Remnant

June 26, 2012, Inconsistencies apparent in Oklahoma schools’ private funds policy, The Oklahoman

June 7, 2012, Jim Crow-era measures used against vouchers, The Oklahoman

April 18, 2012, Press ReleaseScholarship Program for Disabled Children Gets Second Chance

March 27, 2012, Press ReleaseOklahoma District Judge Rules Against Disabled Students’ Opportunity For Equal Education

March 28, 2012, School voucher law ruled unconstitutional by Tulsa district judge, Kim Archer, Tulsa World

March 28, 2012, Okla. Judge rules scholarship law unconstitutional, Sean Murphy, Associated Press

November 9, 2011, Questions Remain about Oklahoma Special Ed. Vouchers, Nirvi Shah, On Special Education

November 4, 2011, Parents Drop Private-School Voucher Lawsuit, Kim Archer, Tulsa World

October 23, 2011, School Voucher Law Under Scrutiny, Kim Archer, Tulsa World

June 1, 2011, BAPS has ‘philosophical’ issue with vouchers, Nour Habib, Broken Arrow Ledger

May 27, 2011, Governor signs special needs scholarship legislation, changes will end defiance by rogue districts, Broken Arrow Ledger

May 4, 2011, Child with Asperger’s syndrome ‘flourishes’ at Town and Country School, mom says, Nour Habib, Broken Arrow Ledger

January 28, 2011, Superintendents’ opposition to new Oklahoma law aboutmoney, not students, Newsok.com

January 27, 2011, Rational thinking eludes our school leaders, William Swaim, Broken Arrow Ledger

October 15, 2010, Garrett says schools boards impeding Lindsey’s Law are ‘in violation of their oaths, Patrick B. McGuigan, Capitolbeatok.com

Henry Scholarships for Special-Needs Kids in Oklahoma

Eric Baxter on Oklahoma’s News on 6