Who Pays for Special Ed in Jail?

9th Circuit CourthouseCalifornia law says school districts must provide special education classes for children with learning disabilities.  But which school district pays when the child is in county jail?  That’s the question the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has posed to the California Supreme Court.

The answer could be a significant bill for some local school districts throughout California and the federal court wants to hear the state high court’s interpretation.

The state law provides that certain qualified children from 18 to 22 years old are entitled to special education services in the school district where their parents live, but does it apply when the child is jailed?

The case arises with the case of Michael Garcia, 21 and currently serving a term in state prison.  Garcia has a learning disability and speech and language problems.  He has been part of special education classes in Los Angeles Unified School District since the second grade.  He continued classes while held at a juvenile facility but stopped when he turned 18 and was transferred to county jail.

In 2009, Garcia claimed he was still entitled to services under the state’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and state officials ordered the district to provide the classes.

The district appealed to the 9th Circuit after a federal judge in Los Angeles upheld the state order.

Judges Betty Fletcher, Barry Silverman and Kim Wardlaw want the California Supreme Court to have the opportunity to interpret the state law first. 

Under the procedure of certifying a legal question from the federal court to the state’s highest court, the Supreme Court may accept the case and issue its own opinion or reject the request and send it back to the 9th Circuit.

 Case:  Los Angeles Unified School District v. Garcia, No. 10-55879

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