Monday, September 2, 2013
Earlier this summer, we covered three cases before the 9th Circuit that would decide if a Hawaii law ending special education services for students at age 20 violated federal disability laws, when general education students could attend state-funded community schools up to age 22. On August 28, the 9th Circuit ruled that Hawaii’s state-funded high school diploma programs for adults is free public education, so the state must provide the same opportunity for students who need special education services up to age 22. The Individuals with Disabilities Act restricts the power of states to establish age limits on special education eligibility until age 22, but exempts states that do not provide general education services after age 18 from that restriction. A Hawaii statute, Act 163, barred students from attending public school after the last day of the school year in which they turned 20. Hawaii provided education for students older than 20 to earn a high school equivalency diploma by enrolling in one of the state’s ten Community Schools for Adults, but it did not provide special education services for students over 20. Four plaintiffs sued alleging that Act 163 violated federal law by denying public education to special-needs students aged 20 to 21 while offering it, in the form of the Community Schools for Adults, to students without special needs. The Ninth Circuit held that the Hawaii law setting the age limit on public education violated the IDEA and reversed in part the district court’s entry of judgment in favor of the state. Read the court’s opinion in E.R.K. v. Hawaii Dep’t of Education here.