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Torrence v. District of Columbia

November 17, 2009

YVONNE TORRENCE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Yvonne Torrence sues the District of Columbia and D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) seeking a declaration that DCPS discriminated against her child, C.H., in violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ("Rehab Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 794, and requesting relief under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. The District of Columbia moves for partial dismissal of DCPS as a defendant and of the claim under § 504. Ms. Torrence concedes that DCPS should be dismissed.*fn1 While Ms. Torrence contests the dismissal of her Rehab Act claim, because she has failed to state such a claim, that claim will be dismissed. The IDEA claims will remain.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Statutory Scheme

The IDEA 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). In other words, the IDEA 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 examines the student's educational history, progress, recent evaluations, and parental concerns prior to implementing a FAPE for the student. Id. To determine whether a FAPE has been provided, courts must determine whether: (1) the school complied with the IDEA'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, the IDEA does not guarantee any particular outcome or any particular level of education. Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. 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. Facts

Ms. Torrence is the parent of C.H., a fourteen-year-old boy who is eligible for special education and related services as a child with multiple disabilities. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 8. At a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting on May 14, 2008, the team determined that C.H.'s emotions and behavior interfered with his academic progress and that a comprehensive psychological evaluation of C.H. was warranted. Id. ¶ 10. When DCPS did not conduct such an evaluation of C.H. before October 1, 2008, Ms. Torrence wrote to the school system and asked authorization to obtain psychiatric and comprehensive psychological evaluations of C.H. independently. Id. ¶¶ 11, 12. Ten days later, with no response received, Ms. Torrence filed an administrative complaint under IDEA, alleging that DCPS had failed "timely to conduct and review evaluations in all areas of suspected disability." Id. ¶ 14. A hearing on the administrative complaint was held on November 26, 2008, and a hearing officer's decision issued on December 6, 2008, denying the claim and dismissing the case.

In the Complaint here, Counts I and II allege violations of IDEA. Count III alleges Discrimination by a Program Receiving Federal Financial Assistance, in violation of § 504 of the Rehab Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794. Specifically, Count III alleges:

25. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and its implementing regulations require DCPS to provide FAPE to all children with disabilities in its jurisdiction.

26. DCPS has created and adhered to a policy, custom or practice of refusing timely to conduct, review, or authorize funding of evaluations of special education students in the District of Columbia, including C.H.

27. DCPS acted with bad faith and gross misjudgment in refusing timely to conduct, review, or authorize funding of independent evaluations of special education students.

28. Through its policy, custom or practice or refusing timely to conduct, review, or authorize funding of independent evaluations of students including C.H., DCPS has ...


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