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FISHER v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

June 2, 1993

ELIZABETH FISHER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY SPORKIN

 Plaintiff Elizabeth Fisher is a disabled child residing with her parents, Plaintiffs Frederick and Rebecca Fisher. Elizabeth is eligible for special education services pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. Plaintiff Bryan Stamm is a disabled child residing with his parents, Plaintiffs Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Stamm. Bryan also is eligible for special education services under the IDEA. Defendants are the District of Columbia and Franklin L. Smith, Superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS"). The District of Columbia is required by law to provide such eligible students with the special education services they need, and this obligation is not in dispute. Elizabeth is currently placed at the Chelsea School, located in Silver Spring, Maryland. Bryan is currently placed at the Ivymount School, located in Rockville, Maryland.

 The dispute involved in this case concerns the level of funding the District is required to provide for D.C. special-needs students placed at private facilities. Plaintiffs seek an order from this Court requiring the District of Columbia to pay the full amount of the tuition charged by the Chelsea and Ivymount Schools for the special education services provided by those schools to Elizabeth and Bryan, respectively, during the 1992-93 academic year. *fn1" Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' action. An evidentiary hearing was held on May 24 and May 25, 1993. As all evidentiary issues have been tried and the record is complete, this case is currently ripe for a final disposition on the merits. Accordingly, this Memorandum Opinion and Order represent the final judgment of this Court in this case.

 The Court finds that the District's actions in this case are without justification. The District is attempting to transfer its budgetary shortfall to the parents of these special education students. Indeed, it has literally turned them into beggars, making them "beg" for the money needed to educate their children. They have been forced to file suit in federal court in order to assure that their children obtain the special education which their children so desperately need and to which they are legally entitled. For the reasons discussed more fully below, the Court will order the District to pay the Chelsea and Ivymount Schools the full tuition and charges for related services billed by them. The cases of Elizabeth and Bryan will be discussed in turn.

 A. Elizabeth Fisher

 Prior to the 1992-93 academic year, in conformance with D.C. regulations, the Fishers had their daughter Elizabeth undergo educational testing, which revealed that she needed to be enrolled in a special education program. The Fishers first sought to enroll Elizabeth in the Lab School, which is located in the District of Columbia. Because enrollment at the Lab School was full, the District had to find another qualified educational institution for Elizabeth to attend.

 The District having failed to locate another appropriate placement for Elizabeth to meet her special education needs, the Fishers requested that the District place Elizabeth at the Chelsea School, located in Silver Spring, Maryland. Because the District would not voluntarily agree to this placement, the Fishers instituted administrative proceedings against the District. An administrative hearing was held on November 16, 1992. *fn2"

 The hearing officer's decision states:

 
Where there has been a finding of denial of special education and an order by a hearing officer to DCPS to take action by a date certain and DCPS fails to do so, . . . DCPS can be ordered to place and fund the student in the parent's proposed placement until such time that DCPS can demonstrate that they have an appropriate placement. Those conditions have been met in this case. Accordingly DCPS is hereby ordered to place and fund Elizabeth Fisher at Chelsea School from September 8, 1992 until such time as they can demonstrate that they have an appropriate placement.

 Hearing Officer's Determination In the Matter of Elizabeth Fisher, at 4 (November 24, 1992). The District has not appealed this decision, nor proposed an alternative placement.

 Pursuant to the hearing officer's decision, Elizabeth is attending the Chelsea School, and the District is required to pay the school's tuition cost. While the District has made some payments to Chelsea for Elizabeth's tuition for the months of September 1992 through March 1993. *fn3" it has refused to pay the full amount of the tuition charged by Chelsea. Instead, the District has paid Chelsea at a rate set arbitrarily by the District.

 The following facts are not in dispute:

 (1) Elizabeth Fisher is entitled to receive special education services at Chelsea, which is a qualified and appropriate school for the delivery of special education services to D.C. students.

 (2) The District is required to pay for the tuition and the related special education services provided to Elizabeth by Chelsea.

 (3) The District has unilaterally determined to pay a tuition rate lower than the tuition charged by the school and paid ...


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