State To Pay $10 Million For Denying Special Ed Services
HONOLULU — The state of Hawaii agreed to pay $10.25 million to settle a federal lawsuit brought by the Hawaii Disability Rights Center and the parents and legal guardians of students with special needs whose public education was cut off at age 20 instead of 22 by a 2010 state law. A federal appeals court later found the state law violated federal law.
The settlement will pay for educational and related services the students should have received and to reimburse their families for private services they paid for out of their own pockets.
The state Department of Education deposited $8.75 million into the settlement fund in December and is awaiting Gov. David Ige’s approval to take $1.5 million from its special education and student support budget for the rest of the settlement.
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A portion of the settlement money will pay for attorney fees and costs and for the fees, costs and administrative support for the settlement fund’s administrator, retired Hawaii Supreme Court Justice James E. Duffy.
The remainder, $8.2 million plus any interest the money earns as it sits in a bank account, will pay for past and future services for 495 special education students who were affected by the 2010 state law and who joined the class-action lawsuit. Their names are protected by court order.
The $8.2 million is available now. The plaintiffs have until December 2020 to spend down the money.
Meredith Miller, of the Honolulu law firm Alston Hunt Floyd & Miller, is one of the attorneys who negotiated the settlement on behalf of the families and guardians of special education students. She says occupational services and therapy; adaptive equipment; GED support; community college classes; job and independent life skills training and education are among the types of services the settlement money can pay for.
According to the terms of the settlement, no one student can receive more than $20,000.
Instead of giving the money to the students and their families, Miller says the aim is for the administrator to write checks directly to the providers of the qualifying services. She says the Hawaii Disability Rights Center will play a key role in identifying the providers.
For services that were already provided and paid for, Miller says parents and guardians can receive reimbursement with supporting documentation.
State lawmakers approved a law in 2010 that cut off public education for students with special needs at age 20. They argued that the state allows students without disabilities who are older than 20 to complete secondary education programs in state Community Schools for Adults.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found in 2013 that the Hawaii law violates the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which entitles students with disabilities to a free appropriate public education until they turn 22.
U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway ruled in 2014 that the affected students are entitled to free educational services to make up for the two years they were denied by the state law.
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