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Dist. of Columbia v. Abramson

July 3, 2007

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LARRY ABRAMSON AND CAROLINE NEWMAN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

This is a case brought under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as amended, ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. It is an appeal from a Hearing Officer Decision by the District of Columbia on behalf of the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS"). The defendants are the parents of the student, S.A. There are cross motions for summary judgment before the Court. The Court heard oral argument on May 31, 2007.

I. BACKGROUND

The undisputed facts are as follows. The student, S.A., was born on January 16, 1991, and, along with his parents, is a resident of the District of Columbia. See DCPS Statement of Material Facts as to Which There is No Genuine Issue ("SMF") ¶ 1. S.A. attended a District of Columbia public school from kindergarten through second grade, and then was placed by his parents at a private school, the Lowell School, from third through sixth grades. See id. ¶¶ 2-3.

S.A. was placed by his parents at another private school, the Georgetown Day School, in the seventh grade and remained there until February 2006. See id. ¶ 4. S.A. did not request or receive special education services at any of these schools. See id. ¶ 5.

During the 2005-2006 school year, the parents noticed a drop in S.A.'s academic performance and changes in his behavior. S.A.'s mother took him to the Central Assessment Referral and Evaluation Center ("C.A.R.E. Center") at Shaw Junior High School on January 4, 2006 to register him as a DCPS non-attending student and to request that he be evaluated for special education services. See DCPS SMF ¶¶ 8-9; September 14, 2006 Hearing Officer Decision ("HOD") at 2.*fn1 "On January 18, 2006, the C.A.R.E. Center staff convened a Multidisciplinary Team ("MDT") meeting to discuss S.A.'s eligibility for special education services. No decision was reached at that time." DCPS SMF ¶ 10.

The C.A.R.E. Center later contacted the Georgetown Day School to schedule a classroom observation for S.A., but the Center was advised that his parents had withdrawn S.A. from that school effective February 27, 2006. See DCPS SMF ¶ 11. S.A.'s parents placed him at the Grove School, a residential therapeutic private school in Madison, Connecticut, on April 4, 2006. See id. ¶¶ 12-13.

On May 5, 2006, DCPS convened a second MDT Meeting, which the parents attended. However, the MDT team declined to continue any further with the IDEA process, explaining that S.A. was no longer the responsibility of DCPS, since he was by then attending a private school outside of the District. The C.A.R.E. Center staff informed the family that they would instead have to register S.A. within the school system of the county in which Grove is located.

Id. ¶ 9.

"On May 23, 2006, S.A.'s parents filed a request for a due process hearing based on the failure of DCPS to evaluate S.A., determine his eligibility, and provide him with an Individualized Education Program ("IEP") and special education placement." Defendants' SMF ¶ 10; see also id. ¶ 15. "A hearing was held on August 21, 2006 and the Hearing Officer issued his decision on September 14, 2006." id. ¶ 10.

In his decision, the Hearing Officer summarized the arguments of the parties, which appear to be similar to those made in the briefs filed in connection with the cross motions for summary judgment in this case. See HOD at 4-5. The Hearing Officer then reviewed the IDEA and the applicable regulations and ruled for the parents. See id. at 5-10. Defendants summarize his decision as follows:

12. The Hearing Officer concluded that as S.A.'s Local Educational Agency ("LEA"), DCPS is responsible for offering a [free appropriate public education ("FAPE")] by evaluating him, convening an eligibility meeting, determining eligibility, and if S.A. is found eligible, developing an IEP and offering an appropriate placement. Complaint ¶¶ 23-28; Hearing Officer's Decision at 8-10. Further, he found that DCPS denied S.A. a FAPE by failing to complete the eligibility process within the 120-day timeline. Complaint ¶ 24; Hearing Officer's Decision at 9.

13. The Hearing Officer ordered DCPS to promptly complete the special education process and upon a finding of eligibility, reimburse the parents for the Grove tuition until such time that DCPS provides an appropriate placement. ...


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