PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — A student who is suing Portage Public Schools, claiming its scheduling of graduation violates her religious freedoms, has dropped the federal portion of her lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed in the Kalamazoo County Circuit Court in March by Portage Northern senior Minaleah Koffron. She claimed the district was violating her rights by scheduling graduation on May 26, which is also Shavuot, a Jewish holy day that Koffron observes.
The school district asked for the entire case to be moved to federal court but the U.S. District Court said it would hear only arguments about the First Amendment. A county judge will hear the state court claims, including Koffron’s allegation that the district violated the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
The federal chunk of the lawsuit was voluntarily dropped by Koffron on April 11. A court filing says she “believes that her core requests can be sufficiently addressed in the pending state court matter.”
In county court, Koffron’s lawyers argued that the district broke its own anti-discrimination policy, the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, Article 1 of the state constitution and the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit alleged that this is not the first time that the school has scheduled important events on Jewish holidays.
“Here, despite having notice of Shavuot, this specific Shavuot since at least 2015, despite the constant reminders in 2015 and 2017… they scheduled graduation on a Jewish holiday and refused to acknowledge that,” Marla Richelew, who represents Koffron, said in the county courtroom. “This time, they haven’t apologized or promised to be better in the future.”
Mark Ostrowski, who represents the district, superintendent and principal, argued that reasonable accommodations for education only apply to events directly impacting school attendance or taking tests and that rescheduling now would be detrimental to the families of other students. The district has pointed out that Koffron will receive her diploma regardless of whether she attends the ceremony.
“This is not a case where they are asking for reasonable accommodations,” Ostrowski said. “They are asking for a dramatic change of events late in the game that is going to cause significant hardship to hundreds of people.”
On March 29, a temporary injunction was issued telling the district to reschedule Portage Northern High’s graduation to a day that is not a Jewish holy day. That order was lifted April 10. This means that the high school will not be forced to move its graduation date while the lawsuit is ongoing.
The next scheduled court date for the lawsuit is a conference on June 9.