On June 10, 2020, the United States District Court for Connecticut (federal court) concluded that children (young adults) must remain eligible for special education services until they turn 22, invalidating current state law.
Connecticut General Statutes § 10-76d(b) states that “[t]he obligation of the school district [to provide special education] shall terminate when such child is graduated from high school or reaches age twenty-one, whichever occurs first.” Under state regulations, if the student turns 21 during the school year, eligibility ends on June 30. Thanks to a lawsuit filed by the Office of Protection and Advocacy, the predecessor of Disability Rights Connecticut, the Court held that Connecticut’s law violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This is great news because it means that eligibility must continue until the date on which students turn 22.
Disability Rights Connecticut challenged the state’s law through a class action lawsuit, arguing that the state law ran contrary to the federal law, specifically the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA requires that the state provide education to children with disabilities “between the ages of 2 and 21, inclusive.” IDEA also says that states are not required to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to individuals with disabilities in this age range if doing so would be “inconsistent with State law or practice” regarding the provision of public education to children of those ages. Because Connecticut provides “public education” in the form of adult education to individuals aged 18 to 22, the plaintiffs argued, IDEA requires that it provide a free appropriate public education to individuals with disabilities through the age of 22 as well. The state argued that adult education was not “public education” for purposes of IDEA. After lengthy analysis of the meaning of “between the ages of 2 and 21, inclusive” and the term “public education” under IDEA, the Court agreed with the plaintiffs.
Because Connecticut does not terminate access to public education before the age of 22 for people who do not have disabilities, it cannot terminate access for people with disabilities. Thus, children/young adults are eligible to receive a free appropriate public education until they reach the age of 22. The Court ordered the state to provide compensatory education (meaning educational services to remedy the earlier deprivation of education) to all class members who have already been deprived of a free appropriate public education as a result of the state law the Court just invalidated. The Court ordered the parties to work together to identify and notify class members accordingly.
Read the news release issued by Disability Rights Connecticut here and a copy of the decision here.