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Schoenbach v. State

June 12, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


Andrew Schoenbach and Daryl Kade (collectively the "Schoenbachs") are the parents of Anna, a disabled child. Anna is eligible to receive special education services pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the "IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1487. The Schoenbachs filed this suit against the District of Columbia and Clifford Janey, in his official capacity as Superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools (collectively "DCPS"), asserting that DCPS failed to provide a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"), see 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A), to Anna and that DCPS was required to reimburse them for tuition at a private school. The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. Because DCPS offered placement in a public school program that provides the special education services recommended for Anna and the private school where the Schoenbachs placed Anna does not provide such services, DCPS is not obligated to reimburse the Schoenbachs for the private school tuition they have paid. The Court will deny the Schoenbachs' motion for summary judgment and will grant DCPS's motion for summary judgment.



Under the IDEA, disabled students are entitled to a FAPE consisting of "educational instruction specially designed to meet the unique needs of the handicapped child, supported by such services as are necessary to permit the child 'to benefit' from the instruction." Bd. of Educ. of the Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 188-89 (1982); see 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A). Congress' specific intent is evident on the face of the statute:

The purposes of this chapter are -

(1)(A) to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living;

(B) to ensure the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected;

(4) to assess, and ensure the effectiveness of, efforts to educate children with disabilities.

20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A) & (B), 1400(d)(4).

When a disabled student is identified, a multi-disciplinary team ("MDT") consisting of the parents and teachers of the disabled student, a representative of the local educational agency with knowledge about the school's resources and curriculum, and other educational specialists as needed, confers to develop an individualized education program ("IEP") for that student. Reid v. Dist. of Columbia, 401 F.3d 516, 519 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (citing 20 U.S.C. §§ 1412(a)(4), 1414(d)). The IEP is the "modus operandi" of the IDEA. Sch. Comm. of Burlington v. Dep't of Educ., 471 U.S. 359, 368 (1985). 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 to be offered, and criteria for evaluating whether instructional objectives are met. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A); see also 20 U.S.C. § 1401(14). "[T]he IEP must, at a minimum, provide personalized instruction with sufficient support services to permit the child to benefit educationally from that instruction . . . . If no suitable public school is available, the [school system] must pay the costs of sending the child to an appropriate private school." Reid, 401 F.3d at 519. Additionally, the IEP team may determine that in order to benefit from special education, the student requires "related services," non-educational, supportive services such as physical and occupational therapy and psychological counseling. See 34 C.F.R. § 300.24(a).

The statute contains a number of procedural safeguards. Parents of a disabled child must be notified in writing of any proposed change in "the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child" and are permitted to challenge any matter relating to such change. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(3) & (b)(6). Parents can have their complaints considered in "an impartial due process hearing." Id. § 1415(f). Once a hearing is held and an administrative determination is made, a party may appeal the decision of the hearing officer to federal district court. Id. § 1415(i)(2)(A).

B. Factual Background

The Schoenbachs' daughter, Anna, has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. In the past, Anna attended Murch Elementary School where she was in a regular education program. Murch Elementary had large classes, and Anna did not do well there. Administrative Record ("AR") at 11, Hearing Officer's Decision. On April 2, 2004, a MDT met and developed an IEP for Anna. Id. at 9. The IEP prescribed 8.25 hours per week of specialized instruction, 2 hours per week of psychological counseling, 4 hours per week of tutoring, 90 minutes per week of occupational therapy, 75 minutes per week of speech therapy, and 30 minutes per week of counseling. Id. at 9. In order to implement the IEP, Anna was placed at Kingsbury Day School for the 2004-2005 school year in a full-time special education program. Id. at 11. ...

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