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Brown v. District of Columbia

August 1, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge


Plaintiffs E.M., a minor child, and his mother, Vanessa Brown, bring this action against the District of Columbia (the "District") pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, as amended, ("IDEIA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. Plaintiffs challenge a December 14, 2006 administrative decision rejecting their request for compensatory education for E.M. Currently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Upon careful consideration of the motions, the parties' memoranda, the administrative record, the applicable law, and the entire record, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, will deny defendant's cross-motion, and will remand the case to the hearing officer for further proceedings.


I. Statutory and Regulatory Background

Under the IDEIA, all states that receive federal educational assistance must establish policies and procedures to ensure that "a free appropriate public education ["FAPE"] is available to all children with disabilities residing in the State . . . ." 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A). A FAPE is provided through the development and implementation of an Individualized Education Program ("IEP") for each such student. The IEP describes the student's present academic level, determines the student's educational goals, and sets out required educational and related services, including the extent of the student's participation in a regular classroom. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A). A student's IEP is developed by a team that includes the student's parents, a regular education teacher, a special education teacher, a representative of the school district, an individual who can interpret evaluation results, personnel with particular knowledge of the student if applicable, and sometimes the student himself. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(B). An IEP team may also be referred to as a multi-disciplinary team. See generally Winkelman v. Parma City Sch. Dist., 550 U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1994, 2000-01 (2007); T.T. v. Dist. of Columbia, 2007 WL 2111032, at *3 (D.D.C. July 23, 2007).

Before a State or local educational agency may commence the initial provision of special education services, it must first determine whether a student is a "child with a disability," i.e., a child with a listed disorder or "specific learning disabilities" who, "by reason thereof, needs special education and related services." 20 U.S.C. § 1401(3)(A). The "child find" provisions of the Act require each state to have policies and procedures to ensure that "[a]ll children with disabilities residing in the State . . . who are in need of special education and related services, are identified, located, and evaluated." 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(3)(A). Once a child has been referred to an IEP team for an eligibility determination, the IEP team must conduct an "initial evaluation."

20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)(1)(C)(i). Upon completion of the initial evaluation, the team either indicates the reasons a student is ineligible or, if eligibility is found, provides a recommendation for an IEP to the parent. D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 5, §§ 3006, 3007.

If a disabled student is denied special education services, he or she is entitled to compensatory education, "i.e., replacement of educational services the child should have received in the first place." Reid v. Dist. of Columbia, 401 F.3d 516, 518 (D.C. Cir. 2005); see also Walker v. Dist. of Columbia, 157 F. Supp. 2d 11, 30 (D.D.C. 2001). An award of 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, 401 F.3d at 518.

A parent who disagrees with the eligibility determination, the IEP, or the general provision of a FAPE for the student has a right to a "due process hearing" before an impartial hearing officer, which shall be conducted by a State or local educational agency. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(1). The hearing officer's determination ("HOD") is a final decision, and any party aggrieved by an HOD may challenge it in a civil action. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(1), (2).

II. Factual Background

E.M., a twelve year-old student at the time of the current complaint, attended Stanton Elementary School in the District of Columbia. Pls.' Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Pls.'

Stmt.") ¶ 1. E.M. had previously been found eligible for special education services and had been classified as Learning Disabled. Id. ¶ 2. On March 17, 2005, the District developed an IEP for E.M., which required ten hours of specialized instruction each week. Id. ¶ 3. On December 20, 2005, plaintiffs filed a due process complaint, alleging that the District had failed to:

1. conduct a comprehensive occupational therapy evaluation;

2. conduct an Adaptive Vineland ...

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