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Ward v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District Circuit

January 24, 2014

CHANTEL WARD, Plaintiff,



Plaintiff Chantel Ward ("Ward"), an adult student, brought this action appealing a Hearing Officer's dismissal of her administrative claim under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). Ward's administrative claim challenged the decision of the District of Columbia Public School System ("DCPS") to transfer Ward from one private school (Monroe) to another (Kingsbury) on the ground that the transfer did not comply with her individualized education program and was not the least restrictive environment available for her education. Accordingly, Ward alleges that she was denied a free and appropriate public education, and seeks an order that both reverses the administrative decision to transfer her and grants funding for her placement at Monroe.

Ward first brought an administrative complaint regarding the transfer on August 20, 2012. The Hearing Officer held an administrative hearing on October 26, 2012, and issued a decision denying Ward's request on November 3, 2012. On January 23, 2013, Ward filed a complaint in this Court. (ECF No. 1.) This case was referred to a Magistrate Judge for full case management on January 24, 2013 (ECF No. 3), and on March 5, 2013, Ward filed an amended complaint. (ECF No. 9.) On April 30, 2013, Ward filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 13), and Defendant filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on May 28, 2013 (ECF No. 15).

On December 23, 2013, Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson issued a Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 21, attached hereto as Appendix A) with respect to the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. The Report and Recommendation reflects Magistrate Judge Robinson's opinion that Ward's motion for summary judgment should be denied, and that Defendant's Motion for summary judgment should be granted. Report and Recommendation at 2. The Report and Recommendation also advised the parties that either party may file written objections to the Report and Recommendation, which must include the portions of the findings and recommendations to which each objection is made and the basis for each such objection. Id. at 17. The Report and Recommendation further advised the parties that failure to file timely objections may result in waiver of further review of the matters addressed in the Report and Recommendation. Id.

Under this court's local rules, any party who objects to a Report and Recommendation must file a written objection with the Clerk of the Court within 14 days of the party's receipt of the Report and Recommendation. LCvR 72.3(b). As of this date-over a month after the Report and Recommendation was issued-no objections have been filed.

The Court has reviewed Magistrate Judge Robinson's report and will ADOPT the Report and Recommendation in its entirety. Accordingly, the Court will DENY Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and GRANT Defendant's motion for summary judgment. A separate order consistent with this opinion will follow.



Plaintiff Chantel Ward commenced this action against the District of Columbia, pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et. seq., alleging that it failed to provide her with an appropriate educational placement, and seeking reversal of an administrative hearing officer determination that denied her request for relief. Amended Complaint for Declaratory Judgment & Inju[n]ctive and Other Relief ("Amended Complaint") (Document No. 9).[1] This action was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for full case management, including a report and recommendation on dispositive motions. Referral to Magistrate Judge Order (Document No. 3). Pending for consideration by the undersigned are Plaintiff['s] Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 13) and Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 15). Upon consideration of the parties' motions, the memoranda in support thereof and opposition thereto, the administrative record and the entire record herein, the undersigned will recommend that the court deny Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and grant Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment.


Plaintiff Chantel Ward is an adult student, residing in the District of Columbia, who has been identified as having a "specific learning disability" that requires special education services. Amended Complaint ¶¶ 5-6, 8-9; Administrative Record (Document No. 12) at 45. Plaintiff's individualized education program ("IEP") requires that she receive 26 hours per week of specialized instruction, 30 minutes per week of behavioral support services, and one hour per week of speech-language pathology services. Id. at 47. With respect to the least restrictive environment ("LRE") provision, Plaintiff's IEP prescribes that she receive a full-time out of general education setting to receive specialized instruction in the areas of reading, math, and written expression.[2] Id. District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") began funding Plaintiff's attendance at Monroe School, a private full-time special education school, after the parties executed a settlement agreement in December 2010 to resolve a previous administrative complaint. Id. at 45. Prior to that, Plaintiff attended the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for both the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years. Id. at 45, 57; Amended Complaint ¶ 8. At Cesar Chavez, Plaintiff struggled with school and had to repeat ninth grade twice. Id. at 45. While attending Monroe, she "has made academic and emotional progress" and "is more focused and interested in school." Id. at 46. In October 2012, the director of Monroe concluded that Plaintiff was "on the cusp" of 11th grade and 12th grade. Hearing Transcript, Case No. 2012-0561 (Oct. 26. 2012) ("Tr.") (Document No. 11-1) at 156:1-5.

At an IEP meeting conducted in December 2011, DCPS proposed a transfer from Monroe to a special education program at a DCPS public school, Spectrum at Coolidge Senior High School, and issued a prior written notice for that transfer. Administrative Record at 47, 121-22. Plaintiff objected to this proposed transfer by filing a due process complaint. Id. at 47. The assigned hearing officer determined that DCPS could not transfer Plaintiff because it "failed to follow required procedures in making the change in placement...." Id. at 48, 327-334.

Thereafter, at an IEP meeting conducted in May 2012, DCPS proposed a transfer to High Road School, a private full-time special education school. Id. at 48. DCPS sought to move Plaintiff due to concerns regarding teacher certification and the implementation of Plaintiff's IEP at Monroe. Id. at 80-81. Plaintiff's counsel suggested Kingsbury School, another private special education school, opining that it may be more appropriate for Plaintiff. Id. at 48, 82. After Kingsbury accepted Plaintiff for attendance, DCPS issued a prior written notice proposing a change in location of services from Monroe to Kingsbury for the 2012-2013 school year. Id. at 48, 84-86. When Plaintiff visited Kingsbury, however, she determined that she did not like it. Id. at 48. Plaintiff filed a due process complaint on August 20, 2012, challenging the proposed transfer to Kingsbury, and seeking an order requiring DCPS to continue funding her placement at, and transportation to, Monroe or another "11-month full-time out of general education program." Id. at 3-9.

A hearing officer conducted an administrative hearing on October 26, 2012, at which he considered "[w]hether DCPS' proposal to move the student from [Monroe] at the May 14, 2012 IEP team meeting and to Kingsbury pursuant to the August 8, 2012 prior written notice is a change in placement and/or a move to an inappropriate educational setting such that it results in a denial of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE')." Id. at 42, 45. The hearing officer heard testimony from Plaintiff; Plaintiff's mother; Dr. Carolyn Gravely-Moss, the director of Monroe's counseling services; Ruth Logan-Staton, the director of Monroe; Erika Johnson, a ...

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