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Hawaii School Cuts, Teacher Furloughs Upheld

A federal appeals court today upheld the state of Hawaii's efforts to trim 17 days from the school year and furlough teachers to deal with a budget crisis. A legal challenge to those steps had been filed on behalf of students in special education.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled unaninmously that the reductions did not violate the rights of students with disabilities under the main federal special education law.

A group of students charged that the cuts, which closed schools on 17 Fridays, amounted to a change in educational placement that violated the "stay put" provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

But the students lost their bid for a preliminary injunction to block the cuts in both a federal district court and in the 9th Circuit.

"Hawaii's furloughs affect all public schools and all students, disabled and nondisabled alike," said the 9th Circuit's opinion in N.D. v. State of Hawaii Department of Education. "An across-the-board reduction of school days such as the one here does not conflict with Congress's intent of protecting disabled children from being singled out."

The court added that special education students might have a case if school districts cut the total number of minutes of instruction, if such instructional time was outlined in an Individualized education program under the IDEA.

"A school district's failure to provide the number of minutes and type of instruction guaranteed in an IEP could support a claim of material failure to implement an IEP," the court said.

Last week, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which reluctantly agreed to the furlough plan last year, voted in favor of a proposed deal to restore the next school year to 180 days.

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