Friday, December 13, 2013
S.C. Says School Districts Responsible for Special Education in Jail
By JUSTIN LEVINE, Staff Writer
California Education Code § 56041, which assigns responsibilities for public schools to provide special education instruction to qualifying students between the ages of 18 to 22, applies to such students who are incarcerated in county jail, the California Supreme Court has ruled.
The court also held that the terms of § 56041 control the determination of which school district is responsible for providing such services to qualifying prisoners. The statute assigns special educational responsibilities to various school districts primarily based on the area of residence that a parent or conservator of the student lives in.
The case began when the Disability Rights Legal Center brought a claim on behalf of Michael Garcia, a Los Angeles County resident born in 1990 who was first diagnosed as having specific learning deficiencies in the second grade. It was determined that his learning disabilities allowed him to be eligible for special education programs.
At the age of 15, Garcia was arrested on felony charges and held in a juvenile facility where he was provided with special education by the Los Angeles County Office of Education as mandated by California Education Code §§ 48645.2 and 56150.
County Jail Transfer
When he turned 18, Garcia was transferred from the juvenile facility to the Los Angeles County Jail. Because there was no system in place for delivering special education services in the county jail, Garcia filed a due process complaint with the Special Education Division of the Office of Administrative Hearings, alleging that he and others like him were being denied a free appropriate public education as required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The Office of Administrative Hearings ruled that § 56041 applied to designate which institution should be responsible for providing a special education program to Garcia, and that the responsibility fell on the Los Angeles Unified School District since Garcia’s mother resided within the district’s boundaries.
LAUSD began providing Garcia with a special education program at the county jail, but simultaneously filed a motion for relief in the federal district court which upheld the decision of the Office of Administrative Hearings.
LAUSD appealed the district court’s order to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which stayed the proceedings in order to ask the California Supreme Court to decide if § 56041 applied to those who were incarcerated in county jails.
The California Supreme Court answered the question in the affirmative.
Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said that there was “no dispute” that, under federal law and the state statutes which implement its polices, Garcia was entitled to receive a free and appropriate education while serving time in county jail.
“He was under the age of 22 years, had not received a high school diploma or otherwise met prescribed goals, and, prior to his incarceration, he had been identified as a disabled student and had an individualized educational program,” she wrote.
While certain statutes explicitly assign educational responsibilities for pupils housed in facilities such as foster homes, juvenile detention centers and hospitals, Cantil-Sakauye said that lawmakers failed to contemplate who should provide mandatory schooling for those in county jail.
“Absent any indications of a contrary legislative intent in the language and structure of the special education statutory scheme as a whole, we conclude that when none of the statutory exceptions to section 56041 applies, the entity responsible for providing special education to an eligible young adult pupil while he or she is incarcerated in county jail is properly determined by the terms of section 56041.”
Cantil-Sakauye said that the court’s construction of § 56041 was consistent with the state’s general policy of assigning funding responsibility for compulsory public education to the school district in where the student’s parent resides.
“Furthermore,” she wrote, “this interpretation protects a local educational agency serving the geographic area in which a heavily populated county jail like the Los Angeles County jail is located from becoming overwhelmed by the financial responsibility for educating eligible young adult inmates whose parents reside in other districts.”
The chief justice rejected LAUSD’s argument that the court’s decision would lead to “absurd, unworkable results” for school districts such as coordinating staff obligations to geographically distant jail locations and problems regarding security, staffing and dispute resolution issues between inmates and instructors.
Cantil-Sakauye said that while LAUSD had “valid, palpable concerns,” none of the identified problems were “insurmountable” since each school district has an ability to contract with another school district or agency in order to provide the required services.
The case is Los Angeles Unified School District v. Garcia, 13 S.O.S. 6308.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company