Bill will let students with disabilities continue education past age 21

Angelo Santabarbara in October
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Angelo Santabarbara in October

ALBANY – Students with disabilities enrolled in special learning programs who reached age 21 during the pandemic would be able to remain in their programs until the age 23 rather than “aging-out” of public education, under legislation that passed the Assembly and Senate last week.

The legislation, which was co-sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, would allow special education students to return to school until completing their individualized education plans or turning 23 years old – whichever is sooner. It passed both the Assembly and Senate unanimously among the flood of bills that won approval in the final hours of the 2021 legislative session.

“Every student deserves access to a quality education that helps them thrive and for many special education students, that means having supportive school districts that meet the specific needs of their intellectual or developmental disabilities,” said Santabarbara. “As the father of a child with autism, I know the challenges that the pandemic has posed for individuals with disabilities.”

In New York state, students are entitled to attend public school until the end of the school year in which they turn 21. Although most students graduate within four years, students with disabilities who need more time to learn can remain enrolled, usually in special programs, until age 21. Santabarbara said many special education students were unable to engage in remote learning or to adapt to online lessons.

“I’ve been thinking about it since the pandemic started,” Santabarbara said. “There was an influx of calls from parents. Remote working just didn’t work for a lot of these students. I wanted them to return to school rather than lose out on this education through no fault of their own.”

Under the bill language, a special education student who turned 21 during the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school years would be able to continue their education in the upcoming school year and the 2022-2023 school year.

Those covered by the bill, which still need approval from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, include students who are deaf or hard of hearing, students who have visual impairments, students who have multiple disabilities and some that cannot use computers independently.

“As chair of the Assembly Subcommittee on Autism Spectrum Disorders, I’ll continue fighting to ensure that individuals with disabilities have the opportunities and resources they deserve,” Santabarbara said. “Completing an (individualized learning plan) provides students with disabilities the skills needed to pursue their dreams and lead fulfilling, independent lives.”

The change in law would affectt thousands of students statewide, though an exact number is hard to determine, Santabarbara said.

Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the legislation Tuesday.

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