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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Special-Ed Inmate Issue Kicked to CA High Court

(CN) - The 9th Circuit has asked the California Supreme Court to help determine where to send the bill for special-education students who are incarcerated in county jails, saying that the answer could have a "significant fiscal impact on local educational agencies throughout the state of California."

While the student who started the controversy, 21-year-old Michael Garcia, is now doing time in state prison, the San Francisco-based appeals court said Friday that the question still needs to be answered. The three-judge panel certified the following question to the state's high court:

"Does California Education Code § 56041 - which provides generally that for qualifying children ages eighteen to twenty-two, the school district where the child's parent resides is responsible for providing special education services - apply to children who are incarcerated in county jails?"

Garcia, who has a learning disability and speech and language problems, had been enrolled in special-education classes in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) since second grade. 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), the 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.

"The issue presented by the certified question - whether § 56041 applies to eligible students incarcerated in county jails - is dispositive of this case," according to the 9th Circuit. "We are aware of no controlling precedent, and the answer to the certified question could have a significant fiscal impact on local educational agencies throughout the state of California. Thus, rather than decide this novel question of California law ourselves, we respectfully request that the California Supreme Court decide the certified question in order to provide an authoritative answer to California's educational agencies."

The appeals court also noted that "because suits concerning special services required by the IDEA are subject to federal jurisdiction, the California courts are unlikely to have the opportunity to address this question of substantial importance to local school districts unless the California Supreme Court grants a request for certification."

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