Landmark Decision by US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Ensuring all protections under IDEA remain with the students after the age of 18-21



                                                                              Contact: Katrin Haldeman



Albany, NY August 15, 2023 – Disability Rights New York (DRNY), together with Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York (PLS) received a groundbreaking decision from the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recognizing that young adults with disabilities can enforce their own special education rights.


JS, was a 20-year-old student who successfully challenged the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s (DOCCS) failure to provide any special education services despite federal and state mandates to do so.  Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students with a disability are ensured with the right to a free appropriate public education that is tailored to their individual needs. 


After winning his right to education, J.S. sought attorney fees from DOCCS in accordance with the IDEA. DOCCS objected and asserted that only parents, not students, are entitled to seek fees under the IDEA even when the student is an adult. The District Court agreed and dismissed J.S.’s federal claims. 


On appeal, the Second Circuit reversed the District Court, finding students with disabilities age 18 to 21, can enforce their own IDEA rights. The Court made a key finding that impacts the educational rights of students.

“The IDEA expressly establishes substantive and procedural safeguards for children with disabilities, including children ages 18 to 21, inclusive, who may act as individuals responsible for their own welfare – not only to their legal parents.” 


Therefore, as an adult student responsible for his own welfare, J.S. is entitled to all the protections of the IDEA, including the right to challenge IDEA violations and to seek fees as a prevailing party.


“Prior to this court’s decision, students between the ages of 18 to 21 were not afforded the full protections of the IDEA. This decision will have a nation-wide impact. Importantly, it will reverse New York State Education Department guidance which stripped those students of their IDEA rights in New York.” Timothy A. Clune, Executive Director DRNY


“Education is inversely proportional to recidivism and is a major factor in successful reintegration upon release from prison. The Second Circuit’s decision will help pave the way for other 18 to 21 year-old students with disabilities to enforce their rights under the IDEA and, in turn, will have a tremendous positive impact on incarcerated youth returning to their communities” said Karen Murtagh, Executive Director of PLS.


Read Full Decision Here



DRNY is the designated independent non-profit Protection & Advocacy System empowered by Congress to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect and provide legal and non-legal advocacy services to people with disabilities in New York State. The Protection & Advocacy System was created by Congress as a direct result of the horrific conditions that were uncovered in the 1970’s at New York’s Willowbrook State School.


DRNY is supported at tax payer expense by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, The Administration for Community Living; Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration; U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration; and, the Social Security Administration. This press release does not represent the views, positions or policies of, or the endorsements by, any of these federal agencies.


PLSNY, established in 1976, is a statewide not-for-profit organization that provides civil legal services to indigent individuals incarcerated in New York State correctional facilities. PLS” mission is to provide high quality, effective legal representation and assistance to indigent prisoners’, help them to secure their civil and human rights and advocate for more humane prisons and for a more humane criminal justice system.