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Jalloh v. District of Columbia

February 12, 2008


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


Etta Jalloh brought this suit on behalf of her son, R.H., a student eligible for special education and related services as emotionally disabled.*fn1 Finding no reason to overturn the Hearing Officer Decision ("HOD") from which she appeals, the Court will grant summary judgment to the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS").


A. Statutory Scheme

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act ("IDEIA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., ensures that, "all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate pubic education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). The IDEIA guarantees children with disabilities the right to a free appropriate public education ("FAPE"). Id. In designing an appropriate education for students with disabilities, the child's parents, teachers, school officials, and other professionals collaborate to develop an individualized educational program ("IEP") to meet the child's unique needs. See 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(B). Local school officials utilize the IEP to assess the student's needs and assign a commensurate learning environment. See 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A). The IEP team, consisting of the student's parents, teachers, and other local education personnel, examines the student's educational history, progress, recent evaluations, and parental concerns prior to implementing a free appropriate public education for the student. Id. To determine whether a FAPE has been provided, courts must determine whether: (1) the school complied with the IDEIA's procedures; and (2) the IEP developed through those procedures was reasonably calculated to enable the student to receive educational benefits. Loren F. v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys., 349 F.3d 1309, 1312 (11th Cir. 2003).

While the District of Columbia is required to provide students with a public education, it does not guarantee any particular outcome or any particular level of education. Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Central Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 192 (1982); Dorros v. District of Columbia, 510 F. Supp. 2d 97, 100 (D.D.C. 2007). If the parent objects to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the student, or the provision of a free appropriate public education, 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6), the parent may seek an impartial due process hearing. Id. § 1415(f)(1). If the parent is dissatisfied with the outcome of that hearing, s/he may appeal the decision to a state court or a federal district court. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A).

B. Background Facts

On June 16, 2004, DCPS convened a Multidisciplinary Team Meeting ("MDT") to develop an IEP for R.H. The MDT determined that R.H. needed 26 hours of specialized instruction and 1.5 hours of psychological services per week. Ms. Jalloh proposed sending R.H. to a private school, specifically Episcopal School, Rock Creek Academy, or High Road Academy, because these schools offer "small class size, behavior intervention, support staff . . . [and] a very small setting." Administrative Record ("A.R.") at 43. DCPS proposed the Hamilton Center, a public institution, because it "also offers small class size, behavior intervention, [and] related services." Id. At the end of the meeting, DCPS promised to perform a psycho-educational evaluation of R.H. and to reconvene. On that date, it also issued a Prior to Action Notice placing R.H. at Hamilton. Id. at 52.

R.H. attended Hamilton for the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years. No new IEP was developed to cover the 2005-06 school year. DCPS contends that it attempted to convene an MDT/IEP meeting many times but that Ms. Jalloh and/or her education advocate were unable to attend or otherwise failed to appear.*fn2 The HOD concluded that DCPS failed to provide a FAPE to R.H. in 2005-06 because the school system failed to develop a new IEP. Id. at 10 ("[A] two year period was an unreasonable delay for updating the student's IEP"). The HOD ordered that certain evaluations be completed and that the MDT meet to review the evaluations and revise the IEP if appropriate. Id. at 11.

On July 19, 2006, DCPS finally convened another MDT/IEP meeting to develop a new IEP for R.H., to review the services that were being provided, and to discuss current placement. Of the opinion that R.H. had made no progress in two years at Hamilton, Ms. Jalloh urged that he be moved to a private placement. The meeting must have been somewhat difficult: the student's teacher from the prior year, who would be expected to know most about R.H.'s progress, was away on vacation and not in attendance; those in attendance had no records or documentation with them; and Ms. Jalloh, through her advocate Sharon Millis, kept insisting that R.H. was not receiving appropriate services, so much so that the note taker labeled her complaints "monotonous." Id. at 62. The staff from Hamilton*fn3 opined that R.H. had made progress in the program and that the current placement was appropriate. Id. at 63.*fn4

Ms. Jalloh filed a complaint and request for a due process hearing on July 31, 2006. Through counsel, she complained that DCPS had failed to: conduct and review evaluations in all areas of suspected disability; develop adequate IEPs; provide necessary special education and related services; and provide an appropriate placement.

Id. at 111. DCPS filed a Response on August 16, 2006. It stated, in whole:

The District of Columbia Public School[s] (hereinafter "DCPS"), by and through the undersigned Attorney Advisor, hereby provides its Response to the Administrative Due Process Complaint Notice ("Complaint") filed on or about August 1, 2006 on behalf of the parent of [R.H.], DOB [], pursuant to the Individual's [sic] with [sic] Disabilities Education Improvement Act (hereinafter "IDEA 04"), 20 U.S.C. § 1415(c)(2)(B)(i)(I). Specifically, DCPS asserts the following:

1. DCPS denies the allegation it failed to complete a speech and language evaluatin [sic] and a psycho-educational evaluation.

Recommendations are not mandates for the MDT team to follow. Two years have elapsed since June 16, 2004 and DCPS has no record of the parent requesting either of these evaluations.

2. DCPS denies the allegation [that] the Hamilton Center is not reasonably calculated to provide a Free and Appropriate Education to this student.

Id. at 116.

On September 5, 2006, prior to the due process hearing, counsel for Ms. Jalloh wrote to Chuck Ugoji, Special Education Coordinator at Hamilton, and requested all records on R.H.*fn5 He received no response. Counsel for Ms. Jalloh also wrote to the attorney advisor for DCPS indicating an intent to "compel" ...

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