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Federal Judge Rejects Connecticut Law Limiting Special Education Service to The Year in Which the Student Turns 21

June 11, 2020

Senior Judge Charles S. Haight issued a landmark ruling on June 10, 2020 in the case of
A.R. v. Connecticut State Board of Education. The ruling threw out Connecticut law providing
that students with disabilities would age out of special education services on June 30 if the
student turned 21 during the twelve months. Because Connecticut provides public education to
non-disabled students after 21, in programs such as the General Education Development
Program, the Adult High School Credit Diploma Program and the National External Diploma
Program, the state could not cut off services until a student turned 22.

The case was a class action brought by Disability Rights Connecticut with pro bono legal
counsel from Attorney Jason Kim in San Francisco and Attorney Sonja Deyoe of Providence in
2016. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides that students remain
eligible until age 22 unless that was “inconsistent with State law or practice [regarding] the
provision of public education to children in those age ranges.” Connecticut, asserting it did not
provide public education to anyone past age 21, cut off eligibility at the end of the school year in
which the student turned 21. The State argued that the adult education programs differed
significantly from the sort of education provided by Connecticut’s public schools. The court
disagreed, saying public education had the following attributes: significant state or local funding,
public oversight of the education, and the objective of academic proficiency needed to complete
high school.

This decision has a direct impact on special education students who were over 21 and
under 22 after July 15, 2014 and special education students who were cut off from services
before age 22 (other than through the award of a regular diploma) from July 15, 2016 to June 10,
2020. Those students are entitled to compensatory education.

Beyond that, however, the State issued guidance on June 5, 2020, placing the burden on
students aging out during the COVID-19 closure to prove they needed an extension of services.
Moreover, the guidance said that any extension of services would not be considered IEP services.
This decision shreds this guidance. The State Department of Education must now go back and
consider how IDEA services, through an IEP, need to be provided to students who lost transition
services during the closure.