(CN) - California school districts must pay the special-education bills of qualified adult students who are incarcerated in county jails, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
The federal appeals panel had asked the California Supreme Court back in 2012 for its interpretation of how Section 56041 of the California Education Code applied to students between the ages of 18 and 22 who were eligible for federal special-education benefits because of a learning disability or other factors, but were incarcerated and unable to attend their local district.
The student who prompted the request, Michael Garcia, had been enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) since second grade in special-education classes for learning disabilities and speech and language problems. He continued the classes after he became incarcerated at a juvenile facility but stopped after he turned 18 and was transferred to county jail. After Garcia claimed in 2009 that he was still eligible for the services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), California's Office of Administrative Hearings ordered the district to provide the classes.
The school district appealed to the 9th Circuit after a federal judge upheld the agency's finding, but the appeals panel decided to allow the state's high court to weigh in, citing the decision's likely "significant fiscal impact on local educational agencies throughout the state of California."
Acting on the California Supreme Court's ruling in the case late last year, a three-judge appellate panel affirmed Tuesday.
The unsigned ruling from Pasadena, which includes a copy of the California Supreme Court's December 2013 ruling, adopts the state court's reasoning that Section 56041's "statutory language is broad enough to encompass special education programs for eligible county jail inmates between the ages of 18 and 22 years, and no other statute explicitly assigns responsibility for the provision of special education to such individuals."
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