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SPILSBURY v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

March 10, 2004.

ROBERT SPILSBURY, et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al. Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: EMMET SULLIVAN, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs are disabled children who are eligible for special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (2003). Defendants are the District of Columbia; the Superintendent of District of Columbia Public Schools; the Assistant Superintendent of District of Columbia Public Schools, Anne Gay; and the Director of Policy and Planning for District of Columbia Public Schools, Judith Smith, Esq. Pending before the Court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. The central issue is whether defendants (collectively "DCPS") have complied with the IDEA; specifically, whether DCPS has provided plaintiffs with a "free appropriate public education that emphasizes special Page 2 education and related services designed to meet [plaintiffs'] unique needs." 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (d)(1)(a); see also Petties v. District of Columbia, 238 F. Supp.2d 114, 116 (D.D.C. 2002).

The plaintiff-students are currently enrolled at the McLean School, a non-public school serving children with learning disabilities, and their continued placement at McLean is not currently at issue.*fn1 Rather, plaintiffs argue that they are due reimbursement from DCPS for the cost of educating five students at McLean, costs plaintiffs have thus-far paid out of their own pockets.*fn2 Plaintiffs allege that defendants originally funded Page 3 the educational services at issue, but in February of 2002 "abruptly ceased funding" plaintiffs' education, and that DCPS also advised McLean and plaintiffs' parents that it would seek return of previous funding for plaintiffs' education at McLean in 2001-2002. Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J. at 4. Plaintiffs thus seek reimbursement in the amount of $31, 367.50,*fn3 as well as an order that DCPS cannot reclaim any payments made for the 2001-2002 school year. Defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment counters that Plaintiffs Bodnar, Shirk, and Spilsbury are not entitled to reimbursement for tutoring expenses, and that Plaintiff Bodnar is not entitled to reimbursement for psychological therapy.

  Upon careful consideration of the motions, the responses and replies thereto, the oral arguments of counsel, as well as the governing statutory and case law, and for the following reasons, Page 4 it is by the Court hereby ORDERED that plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED; and it is FURTHER ORDERED that defendants' motion for summary judgment is DENIED.

 I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

  This case is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 56, summary judgment should be granted only if the moving party has shown that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986); Waterhouse v. District of Columbia, 298 F.3d 989, 991 (D.C. Cir. 2002). Likewise, in ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, the court shall grant summary judgment only if one of the moving parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law upon material facts that are not genuinely disputed. See Rhoads v. McFerran, 517 F.2d 66, 67 (2d Cir. 1975).

 II. ANALYSIS

  The central issue before the Court is whether defendants have fulfilled their obligation under the IDEA, as well as this Court's Order granting injunctive relief, to provide a free public education to plaintiffs. The Court must determine Page 5 whether plaintiffs are entitled to reimbursement for personal money spent on the students' education, and whether DCPS is entitled to reimbursement for what it now claims were mistaken payments for plaintiffs' education for the 2001-2002 school year.

 A. The IDEA

  The IDEA'S purpose is to ensure that all children with disabilities are able to receive a free public education that is tailored to meet their specialized needs. To make certain that disabled children can truly access the educational services they require, the IDEA provides that a disabled child's parents, teachers, and other professionals annually confer and establish a written "individualized education program"("IEP") for each child. See 20 U.S.C. § 1401(11); 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d) (requiring that each IEP include a statement of needs, services, learning aids, and programs that should be made available to the student). After an IEP is developed, the school system is required to "provide an appropriate placement that meets those needs and, if appropriate public placement is unavailable, the school system must provide an appropriate private placement or make available educational-related services provided by private organizations to supplement a private placement." Petties, 238 F. Supp.2d at 116. Page 6 If the school system proposes to fundamentally change a child's educational placement during this process, parents are entitled to challenge that change through an appeal process. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f). During the pendency of such an appeal, the IDEA provides that the child will "stay-put" — that is, maintain her "current educational placement" until any appeal or ongoing litigation is resolved. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j).

 B. Plaintiffs' "Current Educational Placement"

  To resolve whether DCPS is required to fund the plaintiffs' McLean education, the Court must first determine whether McLean was each plaintiff's current educational placement, and thus the proper place for plaintiffs to remain during their appeal of the 2001-02 IEPs. The parties disagree on the issue of proper placement, in large part due to a dispute as to which IEPs-the 2000-01 IEPs or the 2001-02 IEPs-set forth plaintiffs' current educational placements. Plaintiffs posit that the 2000-01 IEPs control, whereas defendants argue that the 2001-02 IEPs (the IEPs challenged by plaintiffs) dictate the plaintiffs' current educational placements.

  The 2001-02 IEPs proposed fundamental changes in plaintiffs' educational programs, namely removal from the McLean School. Page 7 Plaintiffs made use of IDEA'S procedural safeguards, challenged the implementation of the 2001-02 IEPs, and were awarded stay-put protection by this Court's March 8, 2002 Order. See supra note 1. Thus, because the students attended McLean prior to the development of the 2001-02 IEPs, plaintiffs continued to be enrolled at McLean School and to receive the educational services provided for in their previous (2000-01) IEPs.

  However, DCPS refused to fund these services, arguing that the 2001-02 IEPs — the challenged IEPs — dictate the students' placements and required educational services. In essence, defendants argue that the 2001-02 IEPs were developed prior to the commencement of the 2001-2002 school year, and thus control which educational services need to be provided during that school year. Since the 2001-02 IEPs proposed to remove ...


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