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Friendship Edison Public Charter School Collegiate Campus v. Nesbitt

January 31, 2008

FRIENDSHIP EDISON PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL COLLEGIATE CAMPUS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KENDALL NESBITT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Facciola United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Before me are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Motion") and Defendant's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Cross Motion"). For the reasons stated herein, plaintiff's motion will be granted, defendant's cross motion will be denied, and a status conference will be convened to determine the most appropriate course of action in light of this Memorandum Opinion.

Background

The defendant, Kendall Nesbitt, attended Friendship Edison Public Charter School Collegiate Campus ("Edison") from 2003-2005. Administrative Record ("AR") at 103. Mr. Nesbitt's educational development was largely stagnant during that period, and by the time he was in tenth grade he was functioning at a third grade level. Id. This lack of progress persisted despite the parties' having entered into three settlement agreements concerning remedial education. AR at 136 (Mar. 5, 2003), 134 (Sept. 27, 2004), and 132 (Feb. 11, 2005). On November 14, 2005, Mr. Nesbitt filed a Request for Hearing alleging that Edison and the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS"), in its capacity as a local educational agency, had failed to provide a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE"). AR at 4.

On August 12, 2005, a hearing officer ordered DCPS to place and fund Mr. Nesbitt at High Road Academy ("High Road"), a non-public special education school, and ordered Edison to convene a multi-disciplinary team ("MDT") meeting to discuss compensatory education. AR at 101-06. For various reasons that are in dispute, no progress was made at that meeting or those that would follow. Id. at 107-08 (Oct. 17, 2005), 166-68 (Dec. 13, 2005), and 11-15 (Mar. 20, 2006)

Administrative hearings were held before Hearing Officer Tonya Butler-Truesdale on February 14, 2006 and April 4, 2006. Tr. (Feb. 14, 2006); Tr. (Apr. 4, 2006). On April 14, 2006, the Hearing Officer issued an order finding that Mr. Nesbitt was denied FAPE, that compensatory education was appropriate, and that Edison had violated the order dated August 12, 2005, in which it was to "offer a compensatory education plan from which [Mr. Nesbitt] could gain some educational benefit." AR at 4-5. The Hearing Officer expressed frustration that the record was inadequate to craft a proper award of compensatory education but, nevertheless, awarded the student 3,300 hours of tutoring. Id. at 5. This amount was based on a calculation of 27.5 hours per week for forty weeks over three years. Id.

Edison argues that the award is erroneous because it was based on a mathematical equation, and because Mr. Nesbitt has "failed to provide evidence of educational harm and failed to provide a specific program that could make up for the alleged educational harm." Plaintiff's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Memo") at 2. Defendant opposes plaintiff's motion, and seeks summary judgment on the grounds that the Hearing Officer's order was reasonable.

Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) when no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Where, as here, neither party seeks to present additional evidence, a motion for summary judgment "operates as a motion for judgment based on the evidence comprising the record." Jenkins v. Dist. of Columbia, No. 02-cv-1055, 2005 WL 3371048, at *2 (D.D.C. 2005).

IDEA

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") guarantees children with disabilities the right to a FAPE with services designed to meet their unique needs.

20 U.S.C. §§ 1400(d)(1)(A); 1412(a)(1)*fn1 . Where a school system fails to provide special education or related services, a student is entitled to compensatory education. Walker v. Dist. of Columbia, 157 F. Supp. 2d 11, 30 (D.D.C. 2001). An award issued under IDEA for compensatory education "should aim to place disabled children in the same position they would have occupied but for the school district's violations of IDEA." Reid v. Dist. of Columbia, 401 F.3d 516, 518 (D.C. Cir. 2005).

IDEA permits "any party aggrieved by the findings and decision" rendered during administrative proceedings to "bring a civil action" in state or federal court. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2); 34 C.F.R. § 300.512(b)(3). When reviewing a hearing officer's decision in an IDEA case, a district court shall review the administrative record, hear additional evidence if so requested by the parties, and, based "on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C). The Supreme Court has interpreted the "preponderance" standard of review not to be an allowance of unfettered de novo review, but instead to require that a hearing officer's determinations be given "due weight." Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 206 (1982). That weight, however, has been held to be extremely light. The district court is to award "little deference" to a hearing officer's award, and the party challenging the award may ...


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