By Linda Borg

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Rhode Island Board of Education must provide free public education to students with disabilities until they reach age 22.

The appellate court’s decision vacates the U.S. District Court’s finding and leaves it to the District Court, working with the Department of Education and the plaintiffs, to develop a solution.

Sonja L. Deyoe, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, said about 1,600 students are affected by this decision.

The Rhode Island Department of Education said the 1st Circuit Court’s ruling calls for “Free and Appropriate Public Education” to be provided to people with disabilities until age 22. This conflicts with current state law, which states that such services are provided to age 21.

“We received the ruling just Monday evening,” said RIDE spokeswoman Meg Geoghegan. “We are in the process of reviewing the decision and cannot yet comment.”

The plaintiffs, a young adult with special needs and a group of similar individuals, argued that Rhode Island had failed to provide a “free, appropriate public education” to students with disabilities, as required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The plaintiff says Rhode Island provides public education to young adults without disabilities between the ages of 21 and 22 but does not provide special-education services to people with special needs of the same age.