In a 2021 class action lawsuit filed by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Disability Law Center, U.S. District Court Judge Patrick J. Schiltz recently ruled that special education students are entitled to school instruction all days in an academic year leading up to their 22nd birthday.
In 2020, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Disability Law Center took up the case of two students, and those similarly classed, whose special education services were cut short in violation of federal law. Under state law, school districts had ended instruction for special education students on July 1 following their 21st birthday.
“Federal law is clear, these students are entitled to services through their 22nd birthday,” said Maren Hulden, supervising Disability Law Center attorney. “But keep in mind, this happened in 2020 during the COVID-19 remote-learning lockdown. Negative impacts for special education students meant their learning was cut in two ways—one, they were denied the experiential settings inherent to transition-learning and two, their eligibility timeframe was less than what federal law requires.”
“So, this is very good news,” said Jenn Purrington of Legal Aid’s Disability Law Center. “As a result of the judge’s decision, all students represented in this class action suit should be getting compensatory education services. They’re approaching their mid-20s now, so it’s exceedingly important because of the impact of COVID-19 learning loss, that they get to recover and catch up with the support of the state.”
“Our charge now,” said Hulden, “is finding those students wherever they are in life, today, so they can reclaim the education they were denied.”
Disability advocacy groups have been working to get the word out about the court decision. Anyone with a child still in school needs to contact their school district and request that transition services be continued until they turn 22. If a child turned 21 on or after July 1, 2019 and special education services ended before July 1, 2023, that child’s family should check and see if the child is eligible for compensatory services for services not received before their 22nd birthday. In order to access those compensatory services, contact the child’s school district or transition program to re-enroll the child or find out about needed compensatory services. If a school refuses a request to re-enroll a student or refuses the request for transition services, contact the Minnesota Disability Law Center at 1-800-292-4150.
(Source: Minnesota Disability Law Center)