School ended for Michael Garcia with a routine transfer from juvenile hall to adult county jail. There was no fanfare, diploma or cap and gown. He hadn’t graduated or dropped out.
He’d simply turned 18.
For the next 19 months, he was in limbo, unable to receive the high school diploma that he’ll need for most jobs and to attend college. Despite being eligible for special education under state and federal laws – Garcia has a learning disability, an auditory processing disorder and a speech and language impairment – in the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail, he was a student that no one wanted to teach.
California and federal laws allow students with disabilities to receive special education until age 22. But the laws are vague enough that deciding who should provide that education is unclear.
The problem: In court documents, L.A. Unified said that because there’s no law specifically assigning school districts to provide special education to inmates, the state Department of Education is responsible. The state, on the other hand, said it provides special education services only if it finds local agencies are “unwilling or unable” to do so – a circumstance that it said was not the case for students in Los Angeles County jails.