Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 29° Partly Cloudy
News >  Education

Washington’s special education age limit is illegal, lawsuit claims

Nov. 18, 2022 Updated Fri., Nov. 18, 2022 at 9:48 p.m.

By Dahlia Bazzaz Seattle Times

For disabled students in Washington, the right to free special education services lasts until the end of the school year in which they turn 21. A class-action lawsuit filed in federal court this week says this age cutoff violates federal law.

The suit, aimed at the state’s education agency, seeks to raise the cap to 22 years old. It argues that under the federal statute, students are entitled to services through their 21st year and up until 22 if they live in states like Washington, which offer publicly funded basic education programs to nondisabled adults, such as GED programs.

The class of plaintiffs includes thousands of students who aged out of special education services before their 22nd birthday, according to the lawsuit, and attorneys want compensation for students for being denied services under the current limit.

This argument “is not a reach,” said Lara Hruska, managing partner at Cedar Law PLLC, one of two firms – the other is Susman Godfrey LLP – handling the case against the state.

Federal courts have sided with this reasoning in similar cases in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Hawaii. In 2021, Maine voluntarily increased its age cap from 20 to 22 after reviewing the ruling in the Rhode Island case. States, like Michigan, go above and beyond the federal law, setting their cap at 25.

“We are aware of the lawsuit, and are working with the Attorney General’s Office on next steps,” wrote Katy Payne, a spokesperson for the state education department. “We are also working with the Legislature to understand the implications and financial impacts for Washington state if the law in Washington were to change.”

The state has not yet filed a response in court. Before filing the suit, Hruska said she and her colleagues approached the state about making an emergency rule change to this effect, but saw no movement.

The class representative in this case is a Kirkland man referred to as N.D. in the suit. He was receiving services for autism at an out-of-state school paid for by the state until this past summer, when he turned 21 on Aug. 31. Had his birthday been just been weeks later, he would have received an additional year of free schooling under the existing policy.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.