The United State Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently held that public schools in Rhode Island are responsible to provide free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities until the age of 22 years old, in accordance with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA requires that a state provide FAPE to students with disabilities from age 18 through age 21 if the state offers public education to non-disabled students through age 21. The lead plaintiff, on behalf of a class of about 1,600 students, contended that Rhode Island provides public education to non-disabled students until age 22 through publicly-funded adult education programs. The Court agreed and explained that Rhode Island’s adult education programs constitute public education as contemplated by the IDEA for individuals until age 22, and, therefore, school districts must also arrange for public education for students with disabilities up to age 22. To the extent Rhode Island laws conflict, the Court rendered such laws invalid.
Going forward, the Court’s decision will most likely substantially affect public local educational agency (LEA) budgets. LEAs will need to increase their special education budgets to account for students in special education programs up until the age of 22. As for the students and school districts implicated in this class action, the Court remanded the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island to determine appropriate remedies, which will likely affect LEA budgets, and potentially afford students in the class access to additional educational services.
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