Nearly 500 former Hawaii students have reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the state Department of Education in an 8-year-old class-action lawsuit that alleged they were illegally denied special education services.

The $10.25 million settlement reached in U.S. District Court stemmed from allegations that the DOE violated the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which requires that states provide “free appropriate public education” to all people with disabilities who are under age 22.

“Once we identified that the state had taken this illegal action, we went to court to protect the rights of these special education students who deserved to be treated better,” Louis Erteschik, executive director of the Hawaii Disability Rights Center, said in a press release Thursday.

Louis Erteschik 1132 Bishop Street. 20 sept 2016
Louis Erteschik, executive director of the Hawaii Disability Rights Center that filed the suit along with the law firm Alston Hunt Floyd and Ing.  Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The settlement was reached in December, but an announcement was delayed while the center’s legal team attempted to contact former students who were part of the class-action suit.

A DOE spokeswoman said it was not prepared to comment on the settlement Thursday.

According to the lawsuit filed by the center and its law firm, Alston Hunt Floyd and Ing, a Hawaii law passed in 2010 known as Act 163 effectively prevented disabled students from receiving special education services after turning 20.

If nondisabled students got too old for high school, they were still eligible to attend an adult education program and continue their education until they received a high school diploma.

These adult education programs however, had no services available to special education students — and the effect was that nondisabled students could receive educational services until they turned 22, but special education students could not.

The Hawaii Disability Rights Center filed suit on July 27, 2010, a few weeks after the law took effect.

In 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Act 163 violated federal law requiring that special education students be allowed to remain in school and receive services until they either earn a regular high school diploma or reach age 22.

Although Act 163 no longer prevents students from receiving special education services, the lawsuit was necessary to help older students who were denied services, the plaintiffs said.

The terms of the agreement require the DOE to pay $10.25 million in two installments, partially to pay for the compensatory education or education-related services the 495 affected former special education students are entitled to.

This includes continuing education, training, employment and independent living skills.

Read the settlement here:

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