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District of Columbia v. Vinyard

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 2, 2012

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Plaintiff,
v.
Laura VINYARD and William Vinyard, Defendants.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Laura George, Office of Attorney General, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Michael J. Eig, Michael J. Eig & Associates, PC, Chevy Chase, MD, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, District Judge.

Plaintiff the District of Columbia (" the District" ) seeks judicial review of a Hearing Officer's Determination and Order (" HOD" ) rendered in favor of Defendants Laura Vinyard and William Vinyard (" Defendants" ), parents and next friends of their minor son, G.V.,[1] following an administrative due process hearing under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (" IDEA" ),[2]20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. See Compl., ECF No. [1]. The parties are presently before the Court on Defendants' [3] Motion for Preliminary

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Injunction seeking a " stay-put" order pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j), requiring the District to maintain G.V.'s placement at the Lab School of Washington, a private special education school, and the District's [11] Motion to Stay the HOD pending the District's appeal to this Court. Both motions are now fully briefed [3] and ripe for adjudication. After considering the parties' submissions and the applicable authorities, Defendants' [3] Motion for Preliminary Injunction shall be GRANTED, and the District's [11] Motion to Stay shall be GRANTED-IN-PART and DENIED-IN-PART. Specifically, the HOD shall be stayed pending a resolution by this Court of the District's appeal insofar as the HOD orders the District to reimburse Defendants for all costs associated with G.V.'s education at the Lab School of Washington for the 2011-2012 school year and to develop an individualized education program for G.V. for the current school year. However, because the Court finds the Lab School of Washington to be G.V.'s current educational placement for stay-put purposes, the portion of the HOD directing the District to maintain and fund G.V.'s placement at the Lab School pending a judicial determination on the merits or agreement by the parties otherwise shall remain in effect.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Statutory Framework

The IDEA was enacted to " ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education [" FAPE" ] 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). Once a child is identified as disabled, the school district within which the child resides must convene a meeting of a multi-disciplinary team to develop an individualized education program (" IEP" ) for the student. See § 1414.[4] " The IEP is in brief a comprehensive statement of the educational needs of a handicapped child and the specially designed instruction and related services to be employed to meet those needs." Leonard v. McKenzie, 869 F.2d 1558, 1560 n. 1 (D.C.Cir.1989) (citing Sch. Comm. of the Town of Burlington v. Dept. of Educ., 471 U.S. 359, 368, 105 S.Ct. 1996, 85 L.Ed.2d 385 (1985)). As such, it represents the " modus operandi " of the IDEA. Id. The IEP must be formulated in accordance with the terms of the IDEA and " should be reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade." Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 204, 102 S.Ct. 3034, 73 L.Ed.2d 690 (1982). Once the IEP is developed, the school system must provide an appropriate educational placement that comports with the IEP. Alston v. Dist. of Columbia, 439 F.Supp.2d 86, 90 (D.D.C.2006). " If no suitable public

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school is available, the school system must pay the costs of sending the child to an appropriate private school." Reid ex rel. Reid v. Dist. of Columbia, 401 F.3d 516, 519 (D.C.Cir.2005) (citation and internal editing omitted).

The IDEA guarantees parents of disabled children the opportunity to participate in the evaluation and educational placement process. See § 1415(b)(1). Parents who believe their child's IEP or school placement is inadequate may request an administrative " due process hearing" before an impartial hearing officer. See § 1415(f). Following such a hearing, " [a]ny party aggrieved by the findings and decision ... shall have the right to bring a civil action ... in a district court of the United States." § 1415(i)(2)(A). During the pendency of an appeal to a district court, the IDEA provides that the child will " stay-put" — that is, remain in his " current educational placement" until the matter is resolved. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j).

B. Factual Background[5]

As alleged in the District's complaint, G.V. is a seven year old student residing with his parents, Defendants, in the District of Columbia, Compl. ¶¶ 4-6, who has been identified by the District of Columbia Public Schools (" DCPS" ) as a student with a disability under the IDEA. Id. at ¶¶ 4, 7. G.V. has always attended private schools at Defendants' expense [6] and by unilateral parental placement. Id. at ¶ 7. He is currently enrolled as a first-grade student at the Lab School of Washington (" Lab School" ), located in the District of Columbia. Id. at ¶ 6. Prior to beginning at the Lab School, G.V. attended Aiden Montessori School (" Aiden Montessori" ) for the 2010-2011 school year. Id.

On October 5, 2012, while G.V. was attending Aiden Montessori, DCPS convened an IEP meeting, at which DCPS developed an IEP for G.V. Id. at ¶ 8. The IEP proposed six hours per week of specialized general education instruction and certain related services including speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral support, and physical therapy, all of which DCPS offered to implement at one of two DCPS elementary schools once G.V. enrolled and attended such school. Id. at ¶¶ 8, 10, 11. Defendants rejected the IEP offer and instead maintained G.V.'s enrollment at Aiden Montessori. Id. at ¶¶ 11-14. In early 2011, G.V.'s parents applied, and G.V. was accepted for admission, to the Lab School for the 2011-2012 school year. Id. at ¶ 16. Defendants' legal representative subsequently

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sent DCPS a letter, requesting DCPS to pay for G.V. to attend the Lab School for the 2011-2012 school year, to which DCPS responded with an explanation as to why it would not do so. Id. at ¶¶ 17-18. Several months later, Defendants provided to DCPS a copy of a neuropsychological evaluation of G.V. that Defendants had independently procured. Id. at ¶ 17. After reviewing the evaluation, DCPS notified Defendants that if G.V. enrolled in and attended a DCPS school, G.V. could receive the IEP previously proposed in October 2010, or, if the parents wished for G.V. to remain in private school, DCPS would instead provide G.V. with an Individualized Service Plan (" ISP" ).[7 ...


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