Age Limit to Attend High School in Hawaii Tossed
by Tim Hull, Court House News August 28, 2013
A Hawaii law that bars all students from public school after age 20 violates federal law, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.
The federal appeals court in Honolulu found that Act 163, which the Hawaii Legislature passed in 2010, contradicts the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) because it applies to all students, including those with special needs.
The measure prohibits students from attending public high schools in Hawaii if they turn 20 before the first day of classes. Most students who are aged-out of regular school may attend adult-education diploma programs that the state offers, but these programs provide no services for special-needs and disabled students.
Four such students and the Hawaii Disability Rights Center filed a putative class action alleging that the law ran counter to the IDEA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. A federal judge agreed to certify the class, but eventually ruled for the state on all of its claims.
U.S. District Judge David Ezra found, among other things, that the law did not violate the IDEA because the adult-education classes were not meant to "provide the equivalent of a secondary school education to general education students."
A unanimous three-judge appellate panel found otherwise and partly reversed and remanded on Wednesday. The adult-education programs are indeed secondary schools, offering as they do a free education up to grade 12, according the ruling. This being the case, Hawaii, by enacting Act 163, now offers students between the ages of 20 and 22 a free education only if they are not disabled, the panel found.
"Act 163 makes some 20- year-old and all 21-year-old students ineligible for public education in Hawaii," Judge D.W. Nelson wrote for the panel. "For disabled students, the Act functions as an age limit on eligibility for IDEA services."
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