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District of Columbia v. Bryant-James

December 28, 2009


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


Plaintiff District of Columbia brings this action against Evaudnee Bryant-James, mother and next friend of her minor son E.T., pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. The District challenges an adverse administrative decision holding that it denied E.T. a free appropriate public education by failing to place him in a full-time special education program. Currently before the Court are [11, 14] the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the motions, the parties' memoranda, the administrative record, the applicable law, and the entire record herein, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny the District's motion for summary judgment and will grant Bryant-James' cross-motion for summary judgment.


I. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Under IDEA, all states that receive federal education assistance, which includes the District of Columbia, 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). The law defines a FAPE as "special education and related services that (A) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge; (B) meet the standards of the State educational agency; (C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved; and (D) are provided in conformity with the individualized education program required under [law]." Id. § 1401(9). Once a child is found to qualify for a FAPE, the school district is required to develop and implement an individualized education program ("IEP") for him or her. Id. § 1414(d)(2)(A). The IEP comprehensively describes the student's present academic level, details measurable annual goals for the student, specifies necessary educational and related services, and establishes the extent to which the student will participate in a regular education classroom. Id. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(i).

To develop the IEP, a team determines where the student should be placed. Id. § 1414(e). If no public school can meet the child's needs, the state is required to place him or her at an appropriate private school and pay the tuition. Id. § 1412(a)(10)(B)(i); see also Sch. Comm. of Burlington v. Dep't of Educ., 471 U.S. 359, 369 (1985). If a parent disagrees with the IEP or the subsequent school placement, he or she is entitled to an "impartial due process hearing" conducted by the state or local educational agency. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f)(1)(A). Any party may bring a civil action challenging the hearing officer's decision. Id. § 1415(i)(2)(A).

II. Factual Background

E.T. is a thirteen-year-old eighth grade student who attended Ideal Academy Public Charter School from pre-kindergarten through the 2007-08 school year. Administrative Record ("AR"), at 5-6.

E.T.'s parents first asked the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") to address difficulties their son was having with reading in 2003. Id. at 6. In May of 2007, DCPS still had not acted on these requests, and E.T.'s parents filed an administrative due process complaint to obtain evaluations of their son. Id. at 99. The parties settled, and DCPS agreed to fund numerous evaluations of E.T. Id. at 255-56

These evaluations began in early 2008. A psychoeducation evaluation concluded that E.T. "suffers from difficulties with reading and processing speed," deficiencies which "interfere with his academic performance and therefore preclude[] him from performing at his 'real' level of intellectual ability." Id. at 123. The evaluator determined that E.T. "would benefit from being placed in a classroom setting where he would receive instructions that are commensurate with the rate at which he learns." Id. at 124.

E.T. also underwent a clinical psychological evaluation. The evaluator found that E.T. "has significant processing speed difficulties that negatively influence his performance in the school environment," and determined that E.T. should be given shorter assignments and test questions, as well as extra time to complete his work. Id. at 141. She also concluded that E.T. "requires supportive therapy to address[, inter alia,] emotional reaction to academic difficulties." She wrote, though, that E.T. "is not currently considered as a student requiring special education services." Id.

E.T. had a speech and language evaluation as well. The evaluator assessed E.T. as having "significant deficits in auditory and phonological processing affecting his receptive language and reading skills." Id. at 135. She recommended that E.T. be placed in a structured and systematic reading program, and that his teachers break complex directions into simpler form and grant him extra time to complete assignments. Id. She further suggested that E.T. receive speech and language therapy twice a week for 30 minutes. Id.

E.T. also received a social history evaluation. Id. at 162-63. The evaluator concluded that "[c]ontinuation in a regular education setting could further delay [E.T.'s] progress rate and cause social-emotion stress." Id. at 163. He found that E.T. needed a "small structured setting with a low teacher to student ratio to facilitate specialized ...

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