(CN) - The 9th Circuit upheld Hawaii's decision to shut down public schools and furlough teachers for 17 Fridays a year until 2011, saying the furloughs don't affect the "educational placement" of disabled students.
In an effort to alleviate the state's fiscal crisis, Hawaii state officials decided to shut down public classrooms and to furlough teachers on 17 Fridays of each school year from 2009 though 2011.
The shut-down would constitute a 10 percent annual reduction in school days.
A group of disabled students and their parents sued, seeking a court order blocking Hawaii education officials from carrying out the furloughs.
The students argued that the furloughs constituted a change in their educational placement, which violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The district court acknowledged that the students would likely suffer some educational setbacks, but declared the shut-down "the least bad of all the choices you could make" to save money for the state.
The federal judge ruled that the "stay-put" provisions of the IDEA were not meant to cover system-wide changes in public schools that affect disabled and non-disabled children alike. Such system-wide changes are not changes in educational placement, the judge ruled.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed on appeal.
"The State continues to finance the educational placement, it just does so with slightly fewer school days," Judge Jerome Farris wrote for the Honolulu-based panel.
"Our conclusion does not mean, however, that States and school boards can make any administrative change, in terms of cutting school days, without triggering the stay-put provisions," the ruling states.
"To allow the stay-put provisions to apply in this instance would be essentially to give the parents of disabled children veto power over the state's decisions regarding the management of its schools," Farris wrote.
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