Phillip Suderman · May 6, 2024


CONTACT: Phillip Suderman, [email protected], (850) 376-4110

BOSTON— Today, Ariella and David Hellman, along with Josh Harrison and Miriam Segura-Harrison, two sets of parents with children who have special needs, teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) and the Pioneer Public Interest Law Center (PPILC) to file a federal lawsuit against the commonwealth of Massachusetts. They are challenging a Massachusetts regulation that effectively bars their children from receiving special education services that are financed with state and local funds—just because those children choose to attend private schools. These parents argue that this regulation is not only unfair to children with special needs, but also unconstitutional.

The lawsuit stems from a Massachusetts law that guarantees that all students are entitled to special education services, no matter which schools they attend. These services run the gamut, from simple learning exercises to intensive hands-on personal interaction with behavioral therapists. The services are critical for children because they help them overcome their learning challenges. Yet even though Massachusetts law entitles all children to the services, a Massachusetts regulation makes access to services practically unobtainable for children whose parents have enrolled them in private schools.

That’s because Massachusetts regulators have imposed an irrational—and unconstitutional—restriction on special needs students whose parents enrolled them in private school. The restriction? These students can receive services at sites the state deems “neutral,” but not the private schools they attend.

This restriction makes many of these services impractical at best, or useless at worst. For many students, the services need to be administered at the point of classroom learning. Being removed from their school to access services is also stigmatizing for these children, who already face physical or emotional challenges. And time spent traveling rather than learning results in the children falling even further behind in their academics. Furthermore, many parents work outside the home, so they cannot spend time during the workday shuttling their children from location to location. Consequently, many families simply forgo the services to which their children are legally entitled.

Making matters worse, the application of the law is inconsistent. Under certain circumstances, a school district will enroll a child with special needs at a private school. That child, because they were put there by the government, can then receive services at that school. But a classmate who is enrolled in that very same private school by their parents isn’t allowed that option. That violates the constitutional right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children.

“Massachusetts made a promise to these parents, and they should keep it not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the constitutionally required thing to do,” said IJ Educational Choice Attorney David Hodges.  

And while constitutionality is important, so is the basic goal of making sure all students are taken care of.

“Helping children and giving them the resources they need is a priority we can all get behind, no matter which school these choose to attend,” said Ariella and David Hellman. “The focus now should be on following through.”

“Massachusetts guarantees special education for all kids who need it. All we want is for Massachusetts to honor that guarantee,” said Josh Harrison and Miriam Segura-Harrison.

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IJ is the nation’s leading law firm defending educational choice programs and expanding educational access and opportunity. Since its founding in 1991, IJ has successfully represented parents in educational choice lawsuits in numerous state supreme courts, intermediate courts of appeal, and trial courts, as well as four times at the U.S. Supreme Court (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, Carson v. Makin). IJ is currently defending choice programs in Alaska, Ohio, and Tennessee alongside EdChoice Legal Advocates as part of the Partnership for Educational Choice. 

PPILC, which serves as consulting counsel in this case, is a nonpartisan, public interest law firm that defends and promotes educational options, accountable government and economic opportunity across the Northeast. PPILC achieves its mission through legal research, amicus briefs, and litigation.

To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may contact Phillip Suderman, IJ’s Communications Project Manager, at [email protected] or (850) 376-4110. More information on the case is available at:

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