The unusual lifestyle and growth pattern of Kiryas Joel has led to litigation on a number of fronts. In 1994, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet that the Kiryas Joel school district, which covered only the village, was designed in violation of the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment, because the design accommodated one group on the basis of religious affiliation. Subsequently, the New York State Legislature established a similar school district in the village that has passed legal muster.
Further litigation has resulted over what entity should pay for the education of children with disabilities in Kiryas Joel, and over whether the community’s boys must ride buses driven by women. A case against the village is currently pending in federal district court; plaintiffs, who are asking for the village to be dissolved, say that Kiryas Joel is a theocracy whose existence violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, where local government leaders abuse the laws, such as those for tax-exempt status, zoning, and sanitation, to favor members of their own sect and persecute other Orthodox Jews. They also say that the leaders commit vote fraud by intimidating dissident voters and busing in non-residents.
Kiryas Joel’s public school district has long been a subject of controversy. First created in 1990 by an act of the New York State Legislature to serve special education students in the almost entirely Hasidic Orange County village, the specifically carved-out district weathered a series of constitutional challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that the district violated the Constitution’s requirement of separation between religion and state. But allies of the influential Satmar sect in the state government rewrote the law allowing for creation of the district, finally finding statutory language able to overcome the constitutional barriers.
According to NYSED documents, the district served 123 students in the 2008–2009 school year and 217 students the previous year, all of them under special education.
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