Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Education

Appeals Court Rejects Hawaii Age Limit on Special Education

By Mark Walsh — August 29, 2013 2 min read

The state of Hawaii may not restrict special education to students age 20 and younger, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday, because the state provides general secondary education diploma programs to adults.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act generally requires states to provide a free, appropriate public education to students with disabilities from age 3 to 21, inclusive. But the federal law provides an exception for ages 3 through 5 and 18 through 21 when a state law or practice limits education services for those age groups.

Hawaii passed a law in 2010, known as Act 163, that bars students from attending public schools after the last day of the school year in which they turn 20. The law applied to general students and those in special education.

Soon after Act 163 was adopted, four students with disabilities and their families filed a class action in federal district court on behalf of all 20- and 21-year-old special needs students who were barred from public education because of the state law. They alleged that Act 163 violated their rights under the IDEA, as well as claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The plaintiffs pointed to a network of Community Schools for Adults operated by the Hawaii Department of Education, which is the state’s lone school district. The community schools offer GED and competency-based secondary school programs that are open to any student 18 or older who lack high school diplomas. The programs do not provide special education services.

The lawsuit said Hawaii violated IDEA and the other federal laws by denying special education to 20- and 21-year-olds while offering to general education students in the Community Schools. A federal judge ruled for the state on the claims under all three federal laws.

In its Aug. 28 decision in E.R.K. v. Hawaii Department of Education, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled unanimously for the plaintiffs on the IDEA claim only.

“The fate of Act 163 comes down to whether the diploma programs offered by the Community Schools for Adults constitute ‘free public education’” as defined by the IDEA, the court said.

The panel held that the Community Schools’ diploma programs constituted free public education because they were provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge, and they involved secondary education.

“The [Hawaii education department] offers, at taxpayer expense, the opportunity for nondisabled 20- and 21-year-olds to complete their secondary educations and earn high school diplomas,” the 9th Circuit court said. Therefore, providing special education services to students with disabilities of those ages be would consistent with the IDEA’s language about “state law or practice ... respecting the provision of public education,” the court added, “so the state must do so.”

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.

Events

Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
The 4 Biggest Challenges of MTSS During Remote Learning: How Districts Are Adapting
Leaders share ways they have overcome the biggest obstacles of adapting a MTSS or RTI framework in a hybrid or remote learning environment.
Content provided by Panorama Education
Student Well-Being Online Summit Keeping Students and Teachers Motivated and Engaged
Join experts to learn how to address teacher morale, identify students with low engagement, and share what is working in remote learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Join us for our NBOE 2021 Winter Teacher Virtual Interview Fair!
Newark, New Jersey
Newark Public Schools
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago
Assistant Director of Technical Solutions
Working from home
EdGems Math LLC

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read