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IDA CUMMINGS v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

September 7, 2005.

IDA CUMMINGS, et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al. Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROSEMARY COLLYER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Ida Cummings is the grandmother of M.H., a twenty-year-old resident of the District of Columbia who is learning-disabled and emotionally disturbed. Compl. at 2. M.H. is eligible to receive special education services, pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1412. Id. Ms. Cummings filed the instant complaint on August 19, 2004, on behalf of M.H., complaining that the District of Columbia Public School System ("DCPS") has failed to provide a "free appropriate public education," see 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A), to M.H. The District of Columbia now moves to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, which Ms. Cummings opposes.

I. BACKGROUND

  A. IDEA

  Under IDEA, disabled students are entitled to a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"). See id. A team consisting of the parents and teachers of the disabled student, and other educational specialists as needed, meets and confers to develop an individualized education program ("IEP") for each student. The IEP is a written statement that includes goals and instructional objectives for the student's education, services to be provided, projections regarding the dates on which such services are offered, and criteria for evaluating whether instructional objectives are met. See 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(I); see also 20 U.S.C. § 1401(14). "In other words, the IEP is the legal instrument that lays out what services the public education agency must deliver to the student in order to provide that student with a FAPE." Defendants' Memorandum in Support of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Complaint, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Mem.") at 1. The IEP team also decides where to place the student. See 20 U.S.C. §§ 1412(a)(5)(A) and 1414(d) and (f). Additionally, the IEP team may determine that the student requires non-educational, supportive services to benefit from special education. See 34 C.F.R. § 300.24(a). These are known as "related services."*fn1

  B. Factual Background

  In March 2003, M.H. was attending school at the Leary School, a private school in Maryland with special education services paid for by the District of Columbia pursuant to IDEA. See Defs.' Ex. 1, March 19, 2003 IEP.*fn2 An IEP team meeting was held on March 19, 2003, at the Leary School to consider M.H.'s education. Id. The IEP team determined that M.H. was in need of several evaluations and developed a revised IEP. Id. at 3. M.H. refused to sign the IEP because she wanted to attend a school close to her son's daycare facility. See id. at 1. The team agreed to reconvene. See id. at 3.

  On May 29, 2003, a multi-disciplinary team ("MDT") meeting was held at the Leary School to discuss M.H.'s IEP and to address her non-attendance since March 19. See Defs.' Ex. 2, MDT Meeting Notes. While M.H. was still registered at the Leary School, she had poor attendance due to daycare problems with her son. See id. DCPS proposed that M.H. be placed at M.M. Washington Center, a full-time special education program within the DCPS system to enable her to be closer to her son's daycare facility. See id.

  Through her attorney, on May 30, 2003, M.H. filed a request for a due-process hearing with the DCPS Student Hearing Office, alleging that DCPS had failed to complete testing, had failed to develop an appropriate IEP, and had failed to provide an appropriate placement. See Defs.' Ex. 3, May 30, 2003 Hearing Request. The requested hearing was held on July 1, 2003, and a Hearing Officer's Decision ("HOD") was issued on July 29, 2003. See Defs.' Ex. 4, July 29, 2003 HOD. The hearing officer ordered DCPS to conduct various assessments, to convene a multidisciplinary team meeting once the evaluations were completed, and to place M.H. in an appropriate facility. See id. In addition, the hearing officer found that M.H. had missed at least 166 days of school during the 2002-2003 school year because of her inability to secure convenient daycare services for her son. See id. at 4. He also found that she had refused to sign her IEP because she wanted to be placed in a school that would facilitate daycare services for her son. M.H. contended that DCPS was obligated to provide such services, as "related services." See id. The hearing officer found that daycare services for M.H.'s child were not "related services" to M.H.'s education under IDEA and were not the responsibility of DCPS. Specifically, he stated:
As a general matter, services that enable a disabled child to remain in school during the day provide the student with "meaningful access to education that Congress envisioned." Daycare services for a student's child do not fit the requirement of assisting the child to benefit from special education or to enable the child to remain in school during the day. . . . Daycare services for Petitioner's child do not enhance Petitioner's skills or her physical or emotional condition.
Defs.' Ex. 4 at 5.

  M.H.'s attorney filed another request on March 10, 2004 for a hearing, alleging that DCPS had failed to complete the requested evaluations, had failed to develop an IEP based on those evaluations, and had failed to make an appropriate placement. See Defs.' Ex. 5, April 14, 2004, Settlement on the Record, at 1-2. A hearing was convened on April 5, 2004, and the parties reached a settlement that was entered into the record by the hearing officer on April 14, 2004. Id.

  DCPS then completed the necessary evaluations and convened an IEP meeting on April 28, 2004. See Defs.' Ex. 6, April 28, 2004, IEP. At that meeting, the IEP team decided that M.M. Washington Center continued to be an appropriate placement for M.H. See id. M.H. and her attorney did not sign the IEP and M.H. refused to attend M.M. Washington Center. See id.

  On August 19, 2004, M.H.'s attorney filed another request for a due-process hearing at the DCPS Student Hearing Office. See Defs.' Ex. 7, Aug. 19, 2004 Hearing Request. On that same date, she filed a complaint and motion for a preliminary injunction with this Court. A hearing convened on September 21, 2004 and the hearing officer issued his decision on September 28, 2004. See Defs.' Ex. 8, Sept. 28, 2004 HOD. The hearing officer found that DCPS had provided M.H. with an educational program but that she did not avail herself of that program. See id. He specifically found that M.M. Washington Center was an appropriate placement for M.H. Id. He concluded that "if a student does not attend and does not register, DCPS cannot be expected to implement the student's IEP." Id. M.H. did not appeal that decision.

  II. LEGAL STANDARD

  Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate when the record shows that no genuine issue exists as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Summary judgment is not a "disfavored legal shortcut[;]" rather, it is a reasoned and careful way to resolve cases fairly and expeditiously. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Only factual disputes that are capable ...


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