Pennsylvania Prison Cannot Stop Providing IDEA Services to Student Even Though the Prison has a Bona Fide Security Interest

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The IDEA allows state prison officials to modify a student's IEP, if the state shows it has a bona fide security interest that can't otherwise be accommodated (20 USC 1415 (d)(7)(B). In this case [Buckley v. State Corr. Inst.-Pine Grove, 65 IDELR 127 (M.D. Pa. 2015)], an incarcerated teenager with a serious emotional disturbance had been involved in dozens of incidents of serious misconduct including four incidents of assault. Due to security concerns the student was living in the Restricted Housing Unit or RHU.

The prison had a school on the grounds that included class rooms, a gym, and special education services.   Prisoners, however, living in the Restricted Housing Unit are not allowed to attend the school. Before being placed in the RHU, the student had an IEP and received one hour per day of education plus one hour of supplementary services. Once he was placed in the RHU, the student's school services consisted of only cell time study one time per week. The cell time study was provided in accordance with a blanket policy for all individuals in the Restricted Housing Unit, and not based on the student's IEP. Thus, the prison essentially terminated his IEP.

In litigation, the prison took the position that if a student poses a bona fide security risk, the IDEA allows the prison to modify the student's IEP to accommodate that risk. The court determined that this student did pose a bona fide security risk and the prison could modify his IEP. However, here the prison had not modified the IEP, it had terminated IDEA services altogether.  The judge stated:

"While the provision teaches that special education services must yield to legitimate safety considerations, it specifies that an education program should be revised, not annulled, in light of these interests."

The judge went on to determine that not only was the student entitled to school services in accordance with an IEP, this student was also entitled to compensatory services to make up for the educational services he had been denied. The student had entered prison when he was 16 years old and at the time of the court decision he was 21. He had spent much of his time while imprisoned in the RHU without the IDEA services he was entitled to. The judge ordered that he receive one full day of compensatory school services for each school day he was in the Restricted Housing Unit. Since he is now 21, those services will be provided beyond his twenty-first birthday.

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