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Blackman v. District of Columbia

October 6, 2008

MIKEISHA BLACKMAN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The District of Columbia is far from achieving compliance with the August 24, 2006 Consent Decree. The Report of the Evaluation Team for the 2007/08 School Year, filed on August 28, 2008, (the "Evaluation Team Report") identifies key areas of deficiency. The District of Columbia does not dispute these findings of deficiency, either in its own Status Report or through counsel at the September 3, 2008 status hearing. See Status Report of the District of Columbia at 2 ("[T]he District fully supports the views, findings, and recommendations in the Evaluation Team's report.").

The Consent Decree is both a binding court order and a contract. The fact that District of Columbia school officials have many other pressing responsibilities does not justify the lack of progress made toward achieving compliance. The Court is concerned that the District of Columbia has failed to meet the requirement of the Consent Decree in part because the District has not made those requirements a priority and has not tasked particular individuals within the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") or the Office of the State Superintendent of Education ("OSSE") with day-to-day, hands-on responsibility for the specific tasks necessary to achieve the requirements of the Consent Decree. Nor does it appear that the District of Columbia has made particular individuals accountable for the failure to meet the requirements of the Consent Decree. Indeed, it is not even clear to the Court whether, even though OSSE as the state education agency has ultimate responsibility for compliance with the IDEA, it is DCPS or OSSE that is responsible for implementing certain Consent Decree requirements, much less which individuals within DCPS and OSSE bear these responsibilities.

For these reasons, as the Court announced at the September 3, 2008 status conference, the Court will require DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Deborah Gist, State Superintendent of Education, to give testimony regarding the District of Columbia's plan for ensuring coordinated implementation of the requirements of the Consent Decree, the Evaluation Team Report's recommendations, and related provisions of the parties' Alternative Dispute Resolution ("ADR") agreement. This hearing will take place on October 20, 2008, at 9:00 a.m. Counsel and the Evaluation Team should also be prepared to comment on the testimony provided and may, if they wish, submit additional questions in advance for the Court's consideration.

Chancellor Rhee and Superintendent Gist should be prepared to address the following questions and areas of inquiry in their testimony.

I. COMPLIANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

1. How do you personally track progress toward compliance with the Consent Decree? What, if any, reports do you receive? If you receive reports, how frequent are they? What measures do you use to track progress? How do you ensure corrective action is taken when needed?

2. Is there a written document or documents within DCPS or OSSE that set forth with specificity who is responsible, on a day-to-day basis for implementing each of the specific requirements of the Consent Decree, to whom each person reports with respect to each paragraph, and who within the entity is ultimately accountable to the Chancellor and the Superintendent for ensuring that compliance is achieved? Please bring copies of those documents to the October 20, 2008 hearing.

3. Does either DCPS or OSSE have an internal compliance officer for the Consent Decree? If so, please explain this individual's role, scope of authority, allocated resources and performance measures and provide a copy of the documents setting forth that person's responsibilities. If there is no such official, why not?

4. What role, if any, does the DCPS/OSSE General Counsel take in monitoring agency compliance with the obligations imposed by the Consent Decree?

5. What role, if any, does the Office of the Attorney General ("OAG") take in monitoring agency compliance with the obligations imposed by the Consent Decree?

II. COMPLIANCE WITH SPECIFIC CONSENT DECREE REQUIREMENTS

For each of the specific Consent Decree requirements listed below, Chancellor Rhee and Superintendent Gist should be prepared to identify the individual(s) who has daily operational responsibility for bringing the District into compliance. If the responsibilities of individuals at OSSE and DCPS overlap, what are the differences in their roles and how are efforts coordinated? Who has lead or primary responsibility for ensuring that compliance is achieved? To whom does he or she report?

For the individuals identified as having primary responsibility for the various Consent Decree ...


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