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REID v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

March 16, 2004.

Mathew Reid, et. al., Plaintiffs,
v.
District of Columbia, et. al. Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REGGIE WALTON, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The instant lawsuit concerns the education of a young child, Mathew Reid, who is enrolled in the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") system. Mathew and his mother Gwendolyn Reid (collectively the "plaintiffs"), brought this action against the District of Columbia and Elfreda W. Massie, in her official capacity as Interim Superintendent of the DCPS (collectively the "defendants").*fn1 Specifically, plaintiffs challenge a hearing officer's decision ("HOD") which concluded (1) that an award of 810 hours of compensatory education services was sufficient to compensate Mathew for the DCPS' prior denial of a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") to him; (2) that the DCPS denied Mathew a FAPE for only four and a half years; and (3) that the Individualized Education Program ("IEP") team may terminate Mathew's compensatory education services if they determine that he would no longer benefit from such services. Upon consideration of the entire record, the Court concludes that plaintiffs have failed to establish that the HOD must be reversed, and accordingly, the Court will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment and deny plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. Page 2

I. Background

 A. Facts

  Plaintiff Mathew Reid was born on September 18, 1988. Plaintiffs' Statement of Material Facts as to Which There is No Genuine Issue ("Pls.' Stmt") ¶ 2. On June 6, 1998, Mathew was identified as a child with learning disabilities. Defendants' Statement of Material Facts as to Which There is No Genuine Issue, and Response to Plaintiffs' Statement of Material Facts ("Defs.' Stmt") ¶ 4. Specifically, Mathew has been diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder ("ADHD") and a learning disability. Pls.' Stmt ¶ 13. Because of Mathew's disabilities, he is eligible for special education services pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA" or "the Act"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. (2000). The dispute in this matter centers around exactly when Mathew's disabilities manifested themselves and should have been recognized and addressed by DCPS officials. In addition, plaintiffs challenge the remedy awarded to them for defendants' denial of a FAPE to Mathew.

  Mathew has attended DCPS facilities for all school years relevant to this action except during the 1996-97 school year, when he attended school in California. Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 2; Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pls.' Mem.") at 9. In the fall of 1995, when Mathew was in the second grade, Ms. Reid asked the school counselor for help because she was concerned that Mathew was having problems learning. Id. ¶ 6. During the spring of 1996, Mathew's teacher met with Ms. Reid and the school principal to discuss Mathew's behavior, academic, and attention problems. Id. ¶ 8; Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pls.' Mot."), Exhibit ("Ex.") 1, Hearing Officer Determination ("HOD") at 6. At the end of the 1995-96 school year, Mathew was considered for retention in the second Page 3 grade but because retention at the second grade level was a parental decision, Mathew was promoted to the third grade. Id. at 4; Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 7. In June 1998, Mathew was identified as a child with disabilities, and at the conclusion of the 1998-99 school year he was retained in the fourth grade. Pls.' Mot., Ex. 1, HOD at 2, 4. Once he was identified as a child with disabilities, an Individualized Education Program ("IEP") was developed and provided to Mathew. Id. On July 27, 2001, a hearing officer determined that Mathew had been "underserved since being identified as a child with a disability . . . and placed him on a full-time special education program." Id. at 6. On December 18, 2001, Ms. Reid, through counsel, filed a request for a due process hearing. Id. at 2. Specifically, Ms. Reid complained about the DCPS' failure to "find"*fn2 Mathew's disabilities prior to June 1998, and requested compensatory education for Mathew for the 1992-93, 1993-94, 1994-95, 1995-96, 1996-97, 1997-98, 1998-99, 1999-2000, and 2000-01 school years. Id. at 2. Plaintiffs subsequently withdrew their claims for compensatory education for school years 1992-93, 1993-94, 1994-95, and 1996-97. Id. Their due process hearing was held on April 11, 2002, and May 14, 2002. Id. at 1.

 B. The Evidence Presented at the Due Process Hearing

  The hearing officer heard testimony from plaintiffs' three experts: Dr. Susan Van Ost, a psychologist with experience in assessing children with disabilities; Dr. Carol A. Kamara, a Speech and Language pathologist; and Dr. Sheila C. Isman, an educational consultant who provides services to parents who have children with disabilities. Id. at 3-4. All three experts testified that Mathew's disabilities should have manifested themselves in the early stage of his Page 4 school enrollment and should have been identified by a qualified teacher. Id. However, because all the testimony was based on records and retrospective evaluations of Mathew, none of the experts could specify the precise time when Mathew's disabilities actually manifested themselves. Id. Dr. Ost testified that, according to the American Psychiatric Association, Mathew's combined ADHD and learning disabilities should have manifested the symptoms of the disorder by the age of seven. Id. Thus, according to Dr. Ost, Mathew's teachers should have suspected his disabilities as early as the second grade. Id. Dr. Kamara testified that given her understanding of Mathew's speech and language impairment as of April 8, 2002, the impairment should have manifested itself in the early stages of his school enrollment and been observed by a qualified teacher. Id. at 4. As proof of when the disabilities manifested themselves, Dr. Kamara pointed out that Mathew's third grade report card from California and his performance on his May 1997 Stanford 9 test results "indicated a speech and language deficit." Id. Finally, Dr. Iseman testified that Mathew should have been evaluated for special education services when his teacher discussed his possible retention in the second grade at the conclusion of the 1995-96 school year. Id. In addition, according to Dr. Iseman, Mathew's third grade report card and test results from California should have strongly suggested that Mathew had learning disabilities. Id.

  The DCPS did not call any witnesses to testify on its behalf. Id. at 3. Instead, the DCPS submitted two pieces of documentary evidence: a copy of a September 1, 2000, Mediation Agreement and a copy of a April 4, 2002, proposed settlement agreement that was entered into between plaintiffs and the DCPS.*fn3 Page 5

 C. The Hearing Officer's Decision

  In a decision issued July 15, 2002, the hearing officer made three findings of fact that are relevant to the current proceeding. First, he found that by failing to "find" that Mathew was in need of special education services for the 1998-99, 1999-2000, and 2000-01 school years, the DCPS denied Mathew a FAPE. Id. at 6. Second, he concluded that Mathew's "disabilities manifested themselves and should have been `found' and evaluated as early as midway through the 1995-96 school year." Id. Finally, the hearing officer found that "[b]y failing to `find' [that] Mathew [needed special education services] until midway through the 1995-96 School Year and during the 1997-98 School Year, [the] DCPS denied [a] FAPE to Mathew." Id. at 5-6.*fn4 The hearing officer ordered that Mathew receive one hour of compensatory education services for each day his FAPE had been denied as directed by Mathew's IEP team, for a total of 810 hours, in addition to the special education and related services already provided to Mathew pursuant to his IEP that was already in effect. Id. at 7. The order also allowed for periodic assessments of Mathew's progress by his IEP team and permits the IEP team to reduce or discontinue Mathew's compensatory education services if it determines that Mathew no longer needs or is no longer benefitting from the services. Id. Page 6

  Plaintiffs argue that based on the evidence they presented at the hearing, Mathew should have been identified as a child with disabilities at the beginning of the 1995-96 school year rather than midway through that school year; that Mathew is entitled to one day of compensatory education services for each day he was denied a FAPE; and that the IEP team should not have been given authority to reduce or terminate Mathew's compensatory education services. Pls.' Mem. at 1. Defendants request that the hearing officer's determinations be affirmed on the ground there is no legal basis for overturning the hearing officer's decision. Memorandum of Points and Authorities is [sic] Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Mem.") at 4.

  II. Analysis

 A. Standard of ...


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