The state’s agreement to resolve a class action lawsuit filed in July 2023 creates the potential for students that turned age 21 during the 2022-23 school year to return to school this year until their next birthday.
On the evening of August 30, the Pennsylvania Department of Education announced an amended policy for age eligibility for students receiving special education supports and services which will have significant changes for school districts.
The amended policy goes into effect on September 5 and provides that students are now eligible to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) until graduation from high school or their 22nd birthday, whichever occurs sooner.
Previously, students receiving special education services received a FAPE until graduation from high school or the end of the school year in which they reached the age of 21. Under the new policy, student eligibility will terminate on the day before the student’s 22nd birthday. This means that eligibility will terminate abruptly and not at a natural termination date such as the end of a marking period.
This change results from a settlement agreement from a class action lawsuit which was filed against the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
The Plaintiffs alleged that since PDE provides free public education to students 18 through 21 via its adult education programs, it is obligated under the IDEA to make a FAPE available to students with disabilities in that age range as well, and thus to provide special education and services until their 22nd birthdays.
The lead Plaintiff, A.P., is a 19 year old student identified as having an intellectual disability, Autism Spectrum disorder, other health impairment, and a speech or language impairment. Since A.P.’s 22nd birthday is during February 2026, he will receive services until that time, rather than exiting at the end of the 2024-25 school year.
What This Means
Students that reached the age of 21 during or after the 2022-23 school year are eligible to enroll in school and receive a FAPE until their 22nd birthday. Districts are to implement the student’s pendent IEP.
The students will not count toward teacher caseload limitations. However, regulations regarding age range restrictions and classroom size do apply to classrooms these students will attend. These 21-year-old students are to be included in PIMS reporting throughout the year to receive applicable funding.
Although PDE has sent notice to affected students about the amended policy, Districts were directed to also follow up with these students in writing to advise them of the amended policy and see if they will choose to enroll until their 22nd birthday.
Bottom Line for Schools
As in the past few years, schools must take steps to comply with a new mandate issued on the eve of (or even days after) the start of school. Resources for LEAs include supports from and collaboration with intermediate units, in addition to guidance from their school’s solicitor or one of the education attorneys at KingSpry.
School leaders and special education teams with questions regarding this policy change should contact their school solicitor or one of the Special Education attorneys at KingSpry.