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Judge dismisses Lawrence parents' school lawsuit

A federal judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by parents of public school students in the Lawrence school district, saying in her ruling there is no merit to the parents' claim that the school board, consisting mostly of Orthodox Jews, set policies that favored residents of the same sect.

U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert in Central Islip rejected the plaintiffs' contention that the board's decision to close and sell elementary school Number 6 was unconstitutional because Orthodox Jews in the community supported the decision while most other residents did not.

"To deny Orthodox Jews these rights simply because, as plaintiffs allege, Orthodox Jews have different opinions from Lawrence's other residents would be to discriminate against Orthodox Jews because they are Orthodox Jews," Seybert wrote. "Any such discrimination would be constitutionally and morally repugnant."

School Number 6 is the district's newest and considered in the best physical condition. It is the only elementary school with grass fields, the only handicapped-accessible elementary school and occupies the largest parcel of any of the schools, the plaintiffs' attorney, Rob Agostisi of Garden City, has said.

Six of the seven board members are Orthodox Jews who send their children to yeshivas, Agostisi has said. Public school parents speculate the board plans to use sale proceeds to lower property taxes, helping Orthodox families finance private religious education.

"We feel that the judge did not look at all the underlying facts in our case before she issued her ruling," said Andrew Levey, one of the parents who filed the lawsuit. "At this time we're exploring our options."

In the suit, Levey and other parents argued selling school Number 6 needs to be viewed in context of what the school board has done over the years. Levey and the other parents cited previous board decisions they said were designed to benefit Orthodox Jewish residents. One example, they said, was when the school board passed a series of rules in 2006 that allowed yeshiva students to receive free busing but the same benefits were denied to students who attended Catholic schools, secular private schools and other private Jewish schools that are not Orthodox.

Albert D'Agostino, the attorney representing Lawrence, applauded Seybert's decision."The judge properly interpreted the fact, properly applied the law and came up with a just result," D'Agostino said.