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State Appeals Decision Regarding Maximum Age of Eligibility for Special Education

July 19, 2020

On June 10, the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut ruled in A.R. v. Connecticut State Board of Education, 3:16-cv-01197 (CSH (D. Conn. June 10, 2020), that the State had violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) by impermissibly terminating eligibility for special education services for students at the end of the school year in which they turn 21 years old, rather than allowing for services to continue up until the student’s 22nd birthday. Following the decision, there has been considerable discussion among school districts and families as to the impact this decision and what to anticipate next.

On Friday, July 10, 2020, the district court entered its judgment and denied the State’s motion to “stay” the decision pending the appeal, which would have paused the implementation of the district court’s order. The State also appealed this class action case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  We expect that it is likely that the State will request a stay from the Second Circuit given the nature of the issues and its potential impact on the special education and adult services systems in Connecticut.

The merits of the district court’s ruling notwithstanding, the decision has created significant uncertainty given the timing of the decision and the lack of clarity regarding its implementation. One immediate question relates to possible inquiries from young adults and parents/guardians of young adults who, in accordance with operative law at the time, exited from special education eligibility and services as of June 30, 2020 because they turned 21 during the 2019-2020 school year.

Based on the language of the decision, young adults in Connecticut who were exited from eligibility for special education services as of June 30, 2020 would be considered members of the A.R. class, and, as such, may be entitled to relief granted by the district court in the form of compensatory education as a member of the plaintiff class, depending on the outcome of the appeal and the process for identifying class members entitled to relief which is yet to be established at the district court level. It is important to note that this class action was brought against the State Board of Education and not against individual school districts. As such, the remedy of compensatory education ordered by the district court, if it is ultimately upheld by the Second Circuit, would be directed to the State Board of Education. How the State might provide for such services remains to be seen.

The State Department of Education previously advised local educational agencies (“LEA”) that the current state laws regarding age of eligibility (i.e., eligibility terminating at the conclusion of the year in which the student turns 21) remained effective until the district court entered its judgment, which it did on July 10, 2020. See Memo from Bryan Klimkiewicz and Jessa Mirtle, State Department of Education (June 19, 2020). Legal counsel for the A.R. plaintiffs issued a flyer to school districts last week opining that young adults who exited from eligibility due to age as of June 30, 2020 are now entitled to continuing services from their LEA until they reach age 22 and that such young adults should contact their district regarding those services. Given the complexity of these issues, districts may wish to consult with legal counsel regarding any specific requests for continued special education services by young adults who were exited from eligibility due to age on June 30, 2020.

It is possible that the State Department of Education will issue further guidance on these developments and issues, and LEAs will need to consider such guidance as necessary. In the meantime, Shipman & Goodwin will keep you apprised of further developments related to the Second Circuit appeal. 

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