Adult Disabled Students Entitled to Free Education

By Kalani, Nanea | Honolulu Star - Advertiser, August 29, 2013 | Go to article overview

Adult Disabled Students Entitled to Free Education


Kalani, Nanea, Honolulu Star - Advertiser


Special education students will be able to receive a free public education for an additional two years beyond the state's cutoff age of 20 which violates federal law, according to a U.S. appeals court ruling Wednesday.

The ruling has potential impact for the nearly 20,000 special education students enrolled in the public school system who could benefit from extra time to earn a diploma.

A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel said Hawaii's law banning students older than 20 from public schools "runs afoul" of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which entitles disabled children to a free public education until they turn 22.

States can opt to lower the age limit to match the cutoff for general education students, which Hawaii did in 2010 when it set the age cutoff for all students at 20.

A class-action lawsuit filed that year argued that the state allows nondisabled students older than 20 to complete secondary education programs under the state-run Community Schools for Adults. The suit was filed on behalf of students with disabilities who were about to turn 20.

A federal district judge had sided with the Department of Education, which argued those programs don't constitute "free public education" as the federal law uses that term. The programs, according to DOE?materials, offer "tuition-free opportunities for adults and out-of-school youth to earn a high school diploma."

Wednesday's ruling concluded state-funded high school diploma programs for adults are a form of public education.

"If Hawaii legislators wish to shut the door to students once they turn 20, that is their prerogative -- but they must shut them to all students, regardless of disability,"?the court said. "In Hawaii ... nondisabled students between the ages of 20 and 22 can pursue the diplomas that eluded them in high school, but students with special needs are simply out of luck."

Jason Kim, an attorney with the San Francisco firm Schneider Wallace Cottrell Konecky who argued the students' case, said, "The result is that disabled students between the ages of 20 and 22 will receive additional services from the state, up to two years more than they were receiving. …

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