Monday, June 17, 2013

Hawaii's Special Education Policies under Scrutiny at the Ninth Circuit

Ninth CircuitIn Doug C. v. State of Hawaii Dep’t of Education, the Ninth Circuit held last week that the Hawaii Department of Education violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by holding a student’s annual individualized education program meeting without the participation of a parent. In the case a school was attempting schedule an IEP meeting for Spencer C., which the father (Doug C.) had rescheduled several times. (The court says that Spencer C.'s mother found the IEP meetings to stressful to attend.)  The school got fed up and held the IEP meeting without either of Spencer C.'s parents. The Ninth Circuit found that Hawaii's Department of Education denied Spencer a free appropriate public education by holding the IEP meeting without his father even though the parent did not affirmatively refuse to attend. The circuit court has remanded the case for the district court for further proceedings about Doug C.'s entitlement to tuition reimbursement under IDEA. Read the court's opinion here.

Also last week, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in two related cases that challenge the Hawaii Department of Education's refusal to provide special education services for students up to age 22. In A.D., ex rel. L.D. v. Department of Educ., Hawaii, No. 12–00307 (D. Haw. Oct. 25, 2012), the 20-year-old plaintiff sought to remain at an academy that he had attended since age seven. In the other case, R.P.-K. ex rel. C.K. v. Department of Educ., Hawaii, No. 10–00436, (D. Haw. March 30, 2012), class action plaintiffs want Hawaii DOE's to provide special education services in its high school equivalency program. Both suits stem from the conflict between IDEA and a Hawaii statute that bars students from attending public school if they are 20 or older on the first day of the school year. Hawaii allows students older than 20 to earn a high school equivalency diploma by enrolling in one of the state’s ten adult community schools, but does not  provide special education services in those programs. IDEA requires states to provide special education and related services in public school until a student reaches age 22, but exempts states that do not provide general education services past age 18. The Ninth Circuit will be asked to decide if Hawaii violated IDEA when because it ends special education services at age 20, even though non-disabled students between the ages of 20 and 22 may be receiving "the functional equivalent of a secondary school education” in adult community schools.

Attorneys for Hawaii counter that IDEA applies to school-age children in traditional secondary schools, and adult community diploma programs are not covered under IDEA’s definition of public education. Separate district courts agreed with Hawaii’s position, finding that the plaintiffs failed to show that a reasonable accommodation existed that would allow them to benefit from adult education programs. The district courts also rejected the plaintiffs’ Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act claims.

The cases will be watched closely, as one district court in Hawaii found in 2009 that the state does not consistently follow its stated practice of terminating students’ education at age 20.  In B.T. ex rel. Mary T. v. Department of Educ., Hawaii, 637 F. Supp. 2d 856 (D. Haw. 2009), B.T., a 20-year-old student with special needs, sued Hawaii’s Department of Education claiming that terminating his special education services at age 20 violated IDEA and denied him a free and appropriate public education. The district court in B.T. agreed, finding that 111 students had been allowed to enroll in secondary schools after age 20. The federal district courts in Hawaii have rejected comparison of the "age-out" cases to B.T., because in B.T., school principals had “approved every single overage general education student and barred almost every single overage special education student.” B.T., 637 F. Supp. 2d at 865. In the R.P.-K case, the district court found that there was not the evidence of "blatant discrimination" present in the B.T. case.  In the two cases heard last week, four (non-disabled) students are said to have enrolled in the adult community diploma program. (In the 2009-2011 school year, 2009–2010 school year, 51 general education students were ineligible to continue their public high school education because they were 20 or over; only one student enrolled in a community school for adults for the 2010–2011 school year).

Click the case name to read the district court's opinion in R.P.-K. ex rel. C.K. v. Department of Educ., Hawaii and the opinion in A.D., ex rel. L.D. v. Department of Educ., Hawaii.


Cases, Equity in education, Special Education | Permalink


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