Class action settlement reached for special education students against Department of Education

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There is a major payout from the Department of Education to settle a class-action lawsuit.

There are 495 students who are part of the class action lawsuit. 

The DOE has agreed to pay $8.5 million after the lawsuit claimed it violated federal law by barring special needs students over the age of 20 to enroll in public school. 

Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act “IDEA”, special education students must be permitted to remain in school and receive services until they either earn a regular high school diploma or reach age 22. 

The case was filed by the Hawaii Disability Rights Center and the Honolulu law firm Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing.

Nonetheless, in 2010, Hawaii lawmakers approved legislation barring enrollment of students who were aged 20 or older on the first day of school in a given year.

“Once we identified that the State had taken this illegal action, we went to court to protect the rights of these special education students who deserved to be treated better by the DOE,” said  Louis Erteschik, Executive Director of the Hawaii Disability Rights Center.

This case forced the DOE to follow the IDEA, and thesettlement gets services to those students who were not allowed to stay in school while the unlawful DOE policy was in effect. 

In 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the DOE’s reliance on the Hawaii statute to dismiss special education students from school was illegal under the IDEA. 

In 2014, the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii ruled that the special education students who were not provided continuing education and transition services through age 22 are entitled to free compensatory education and related services. 

In December 2017, the parties reached a settlement under which the class members will receive the compensatory education or education-related services to which they are entitled.

An $8,200,000 fund has been created by the State of Hawaii to pay for the services. 

The fund is being overseen by Hawai`i Supreme Court Associate Justice James E. Duffy, Jr. (Ret.), who has been named as the Settlement Administrator.

He will work closely with attorneys at Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing and the Hawaii Disability Rights Center to ensure that the goal of making up for the services the class members should have received from the DOE is met. 

According to Paul Alston of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing, “This class action settlement is a wonderful opportunity for class members to receive free supplementary educational opportunities and life-skills training to enable them to lead more independent lives.”

For more information regarding this settlement, including copies of court filings and instructions for eligible class members to participate in the settlement, please
visit http://hawaiiclassaction.com/erk/ or call the settlement hotline at (808) 441-
6268.

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