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Morris v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

April 25, 2014

CAROL MORRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Re Document No.: 4.

For CAROL ANN MORRIS, Plaintiff: Douglas Tyrka, TYRKA & ASSOCIATES, LLC, McLean, VA.

For DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant: Laura George, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL, Washington, DC.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.

Granting Plaintiff's Motion for an Injunction and Entering Judgment for the Plaintiff

I. INTRODUCTION

This case arises under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (" IDEA" ). On March 3, 2014, the plaintiff, Carol Morris, filed a complaint challenging a hearing officer's decision to dismiss her case filed on behalf of her son, J.J., as moot. See Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 1. On March 7, 2014, the plaintiff filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking this Court to remand the case to the hearing officer with instructions to hold a hearing of Ms. Morris's original due process complaint within 10 calendar days. See Pl.'s Mot. Prelim. Injunction 13, ECF No. 4. The Court held a motions hearing on this matter on April 10, 2014. Upon consideration of the parties' motions, and based on the parties' representations at the hearing, the Court will remand this case back to the hearing officer for a decision on the merits of the plaintiff's case.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The IDEA provides 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). The centerpiece of the IDEA is the individualized education program (" IEP" ), which " set outs the child's present educational performance, establishes annual and short-term objectives for improvements in that performance, and describes the specially designed instruction and services that will enable the child to meet those objectives." See Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 311, 108 S.Ct. 592, 98 L.Ed.2d 686 (1988). To ensure a child's and a parent's participation in IEP development, Congress created procedural safeguards to guide the process. See 20 U.S.C. § 1415. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(6) allows parents to file a due process complaint, and 20 U.S.C. § 1415(f) entitles them to a due process hearing by a State or local education agency regarding that complaint, when they feel their child has been denied a FAPE. Once a hearing officer makes a decision regarding a parent's complaint, " [a]ny party aggrieved by the findings and decision . . . shall have the right to bring a civil action with respect to the complaint presented . . . ."

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See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A). That same section specifies that " [i]n any action brought under this paragraph, the court (i) shall receive the records of the administrative proceedings; (ii) shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party; and (iii) basing its decision on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C).

On November 14, 2013, Ms. Morris filed a due process complaint under the IDEA on behalf of her son, J.J., challenging the District of Columbia Public School's (" DCPS" ) placement of J.J. in an inadequate school with a part-time IEP. See Compl. ¶ 11. The facts alleged in her due process complaint were generally as follows. J.J. was detained at a center called Vision Quest, and had just been released (or was about to be released) to a DCPS school, Ballou Senior High School. See Pl.'s Ex. 1 ¶ 1, ECF No. 4-1. One of his biggest " impediment[s] to his success in school" was his behavior. See id. ¶ 7. From April 2012 through April 2013, J.J. was on two IEPs that provided him with " 10 hours of specialized instruction inside of the general education setting and four hours per month of behavioral support services outside of the general education setting." Id. ¶ ¶ 11, 14. Meanwhile, while J.J. had been attending Ballou Senior High School, he purchased a gun and was found in violation of a court order. Id. ¶ 16. As a result, on March 28, 2013, J.J. was sent to Vision Quest, " a residential program with a school and a full-time emotional support services program." Id. ¶ 18. On April 9, 2013, another IEP was developed for J.J., wherein he received 10 hours of specialized instruction inside of the general education setting, but got an extra hour of behavioral support services per week. Id. ¶ 19. By May 8, 2013, Vision Quest had provided a report on J.J. that showed the he " appeared to benefit from the small class size and structure" at Vision Quest. Id. ¶ 22. Vision Quest recommended that J.J. needed, inter alia, social skills instruction, small group/1:1 instruction, preferential seating, and check-ins with a designated teacher. Id. ¶ 28. Based on J.J.'s experience at Vision Quest, his mother, his mother's counsel, and Vision Quest officials agreed that a full-time IEP and placement out of the general education setting would be best for J.J., as he seemed to be improving in that environment. Id. ¶ ¶ 45, 47.

In order to be released from Vision Quest to a DCPS public school, J.J. needed to have a discharge meeting with DCPS. Id. ¶ 29. After a string of meetings and miscommunications from September through November 2013 between DCPS, Vision Quest, Ms. Morris, and her counsel, DCPS determined that the appropriate IEP for J.J. was the same as the April 2013 IEP, with 10 hours of specialized instruction per week. Id. ¶ 69. DCPS also determined that the appropriate school for J.J. was Ballou Senior High School, over the objection of his mother. Id. ¶ 67. At all times throughout the discharge conversations, Ms. Morris requested a full-time IEP for her son, as his time in the highly structured and restrictive environment of Vision Quest had proved helpful to him. Id. ¶ ¶ 45, 47, 65, 67. Additionally, Ms. Morris repeatedly objected to J.J.'s return to Ballou, because of the gun-purchasing incident that occurred there, that resulted in him violating a court order. Id. ¶ 67. Ms. Morris concluded her factual allegations in her due process complaint by explaining that J.J. was about to be released from Vision Quest and had no " appropriate step-down placement. Ballou SHS is not appropriate for the student, as he needs a highly structured and therapeutic step-down program with clinical staff and intensive 1:1 supports in order to access

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the curriculum." Id. ¶ 71. J.J. was ultimately released back to Ballou SHS. See Pl.'s ...


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