A landmark court decision is likely to have a significant impact on the state’s special education student population and a financial impact for school districts. Earlier this month a federal district court ruled that, consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Connecticut school districts must offer a free, appropriate, public education to special education students until they graduate from high school or turn 22, whichever comes first.
Prior to the decision in A.R. v. Connecticut State Board of Education, special education students were only eligible for services until graduation or the end of the school year in which they turn age 21. Based on this ruling, it appears that special education students will now be eligible for potentially as much as an additional year of special education services.
The lawsuit was filed because Connecticut provides educational opportunities for students without disabilities to continue working toward their diploma beyond the age of 21 but does not provide the same opportunity to students with disabilities. The court agreed that this inequity violated federal law, citing the fact that Connecticut’s adult education programs are available to any individual over the age of seventeen and do not impose an age limit. Therefore, the Court ruled that allowing special education students to be educated only until age 21 “constitutes a gross violation of the IDEA.”
The Court awarded compensatory education to the members of the class action which includes students who aged out of special education at the end of the 2014-2015 school year through the present. It also ordered that the parties should “work together regarding identification and notice to potential class members, as well as consideration of the board’s ability to provide compensatory education to class members.” It is unclear at this time if the state will appeal this decision but assuming the ruling takes effect, it will significantly impact both special education students and school districts.