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Parker v. Friendship Edison Public Charter School

September 9, 2008


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


Janice Parker brings this action on behalf of her minor daughter T.P. against Friendship Edison Public Charter School ("Edison") under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA" or "the Act"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 (2006), et. seq., and D.C. Code § 38-2501 (2001) (current version at D.C. Code § 38-2561.02 (Supp. 2008). The IDEA provides that all children with disabilities will be provided a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE"), and provides for procedural safeguards to ensure that disabled children receive individualized education programs to fulfill the Act's goals. Ms. Parker argues that Edison did not conduct an adequate evaluation of T.P., that it failed to comply with the timetable set forth in D.C. Code § 38-2501, and that T.P. was improperly diagnosed and denied special education services. For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [#29] ("Pl. Mot.") will be denied, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment And Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [#31] ("Def. Mot.") will be granted.

I. Background

During the 2003-2004 school year, Ms. Parker informed school officials that T.P. was having behavioral difficulties, had made statements about suicide, and that her grades had dropped markedly from the previous school year. Administrative Record [#28] ("AR") at 49, 172. These developments prompted her to request that T.P. be evaluated for special education services. AR at 108. That request, made on March 18, 2004, sought the following tests: psycho-educational, speech and language, clinical, social history, occupational therapy (if warranted), hearing and vision, and classroom observation. Id.

A. Evaluations

On May 18, 2004, Edison conducted a thorough Psycho-educational and Clinical Evaluation of T.P., consisting of numerous tests and interviews. AR at 48, 57-58. T.P.'s cognitive functioning was found to be within the borderline range, and she was described as academically bright but inhibited by certain behavioral issues. AR at 50-55. T.P. had attended three different schools prior to entering third grade at Edison, and these changes were seen as an important component of her academic difficulties -- particularly given her "honor roll" performance at her previous school. AR at 49. She also had feelings of loneliness and abandonment as a result of her lack of contact with her father. AR at 85. The evaluating psychologist, Dr. Keisha Mack, diagnosed T.P. with "adjustment disorder" and recommended an "occupational therapy evaluation, individual psychotherapy weekly, social skills training/group therapy, a behavior plan and that [Ms. Parker] should monitor the student's television viewing, particularly programs that are violent in nature." AR at 55-56. No recommendation was made for special education services. A list was provided by Dr. Mack of individually-tailored suggestions and accommodations to assist T.P.'s teachers in advancing her academic and behavioral development. AR at 59. Ms. Parker challenged the "adjustment disorder" diagnosis with Dr. Mack but, after further review, the diagnosis was affirmed by her supervisor. AR at 89.

A Speech and Language Evaluation, conducted on May 19, 2004, found T.P.'s expressive language and vocabulary skills to be at an appropriate level. AR at 60-63. An Audiological Evaluation administered on June 21, 2004, did not uncover any abnormalities. AR at 66.

A Social Work Evaluation was conducted on June 27, 2004, and recommended that T.P. participate in weekly psychosocial counseling to help her deal in a constructive manner with feelings of frustration, anger, and sadness. AR at 70. The evaluator also recommended that a child psychiatrist be consulted because "medication may be an appropriate treatment option to help [T.P.] control her behavior and allow her to be more available for learning." Id. No recommendation was made for special education services.

B. Multidisciplinary Team

A multidisciplinary team ("MDT")*fn1 convened on August 12, 2004, with Ms. Parker in attendance. AR 71-78. The results of the evaluations were discussed and, as in the case of Dr. Mack, some evaluators were present to answer questions. It was ultimately agreed that T.P. suffered from adjustment disorder, a temporary condition that did not qualify for special education services, and that her "cognitive abilities and achievement are commensurate [with her age]." AR at 83, 85. The MDT agreed that: (1) T.P. would begin individualized therapy and group therapy; (2) T.P. would receive a functional behavior assessment and an occupational evaluation; (3) it would reconvene within thirty school days to discuss the results and to craft a behavior plan; (4) Edison would develop a "504 Plan"*fn2 for counseling based on Dr. Mack's recommendations; and (5) it would reconvene in three months to "revisit the adjustment disorder classification and to determine if [T.P.] needs further evaluations." AR at 83-85.

C. The Plaintiff's Allegations

On July 22, 2004, after the evaluations were completed but before the MDT meeting, Ms. Parker requested a due process hearing on the basis that Edison failed to comply with D.C. Code § 38-2501 by not conducting a timely and comprehensive evaluation of T.P. AR at 102-104. She amended her request after the MDT meeting to include an allegation that T.P. was not given a complete evaluation and was wrongly denied special education services. AR at 22. More specifically, she argued that T.P. should have been diagnosed as "Other Health Impaired." Id.

The due process hearing was held on October 14, 2004. Ms. Parker was supposed to attend the hearing and testify, but only her counsel appeared.*fn3 Transcript of Proceedings ("Tr.") at 2. No new evidence or testimony was introduced. Hearing Officer David R. Smith issued his decision on November 3, 2004. AR at 1-5. He described the evaluations that had been performed and noted that none of them indicated that T.P. was in need of special education services. He concluded that, based on the record, the remedial plan set forth by the MDT, which included a future reassessment, was ...

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