United States District Court, D. Columbia.
For Lajuan Dixon, Plaintiff: Alana Michelle Hecht, D.C. DISABILITY LAW GROUP, P.C., Washington, DC USA.
For District of Columbia, Defendant: Veronica A. Porter, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Public Interest Division, Washington, DC USA.
ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, United States District Judge.
Lajuan Dixon filed suit as the parent and next friend of A.D., a minor, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief against the District of Columbia under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § § 1400 et seq. Ms. Dixon is appealing a Hearing Officer's Determination and Order rendered in favor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, which found that DCPS did not deny A.D. a free appropriate public education, see 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A). The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. Because Ms. Dixon offered no evidence at the hearing to support her arguments here, the Court finds that the Hearing Officer's Determination and Order was reasoned and consistent with the evidence and the law. The Court will deny Ms. Dixon's motion for summary judgment and will grant DCPS's motion for summary judgment.
A. Statutory Framework
The IDEA ensures that " all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public 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 designing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for students with disabilities, the child's parents, teachers, school officials, and other professionals collaborate in a " multi-disciplinary team" to develop an individualized educational program (IEP) to meet the child's unique needs. See id. § 1414(d)(1)(B). Local school officials utilize the IEP to assess the student's needs and assign a commensurate learning environment. See id. § 1414(d)(1)(A).
The statute contains a number of procedural safeguards. Parents of a disabled child must be notified in writing of any proposed change in " the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child," and are permitted to challenge any matter relating to such change. Id. § 1415(b)(3) & (b)(6). Parents can have their complaints considered in an " impartial due process hearing" before a D.C. Hearing Officer, who issues a determination. Id. § 1415(f)(1)(A). If the parent is dissatisfied with the determination, she may appeal to a state court or a federal district court. Id. § 1415(i)(2)(A).
B. Factual Background
A.D. is now a high school student who was found eligible to receive special education services due to his health impairment (epilepsy and poor short term memory) on November 14, 2011. Administrative Record (AR) [Dkt. 9] at 57-58. A.D. attended Prospect Learning Center (Prospect) from 2011 to June 2013, lastly as an eighth grader. A multidisciplinary team (MDT) met for annual reviews of A.D.'s IEP on March 16, 2012 and January 30, 2013 and issued corresponding IEPs. Id. at 68, 80. Pursuant to the March 2012 and January 2013 IEPs, A.D. received 27.5 hours per week of specialized instruction to address deficits in the areas of reading, math and written language in an outside general-education setting. Id. at 76, 88-89. A.D. was provided with classroom and statewide assessment accommodations such as " repetition of directions, calculators, preferential seating, extended time on subtests and breaks during a subtest." AR at 90. The January 2013 IEP established new annual goals for A.D. and placed A.D. on a high school diploma track. Compare id. at 70-74 with 86-87; 91. IEP progress reports between November 2011 and June 2013 revealed progression but no mastery of any IEP goals. At the end of the 2013 school year, A.D. received all As and Bs on his report card.
On May 20, 2013, DCPS convened an IEP team meeting (May Meeting) to discuss A.D.'s placement for the 2013-2014 school year and changes to the January 2013 IEP. DCPS informed Ms. Dixon that Eastern was being offered to Prospect 8th graders and that the number of hours of specialized services A.D. received had to be reduced from 27.5 to 15 hours per week for A.D. to be on the diploma track. Id. at 106. Ms. Dixon indicated that she was also considering Thurgood Marshall High School and Washington Math Science and Technology Public Charter High School (WMST) as options for A.D. Id. After speaking with special education coordinators from Thurgood Marshall and WMST, Ms. Dixon stated her intention to enroll A.D. at WMST because he could enlist in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) and play football at Friendship High School. Ms. Lee, A.D.'s case manager, affirmed Ms. Dixon's right to send A.D. to WMST, but stated that DCPS had to issue the Prior Written Notice to Eastern. Id.
That same day, DCPS issued a Prior Written Notice memorializing its decision to reduce the hours of specialized instruction for A.D. in the 2013-2014 school year " in order for the receiving school to design the appropriate specialized instruction for the inclusion/diploma track." Id. at 110. The Prior Written Notice indicated that the decision was based on a review of " PIA, SRI score, running record (ELA), weekly testing and classroom observation." Id. DCPS issued a subsequent Prior Written Notice dated June 31, 2013 to indicate that A.D. would matriculate to Eastern because Ms. Dixon had " decided to enroll the student at Eastern Senior High School instead of Washington Math Science and Technology." Id. at 143-44. A DCPS letter to Ms. Dixon dated July 12, 2013 confirmed that the location of services to A.D. would be at Eastern and that " no [further] changes to the IEP are being proposed at this time." Id. at 166.
As a result of the May Meeting, A.D.'s IEP was amended, reducing the hours of specialized instruction A.D. would receive from 27.5 to 15 hours per weeks so A.D. could " transition to senior high in order to metriculate [sic] in an inclusion model to earn carnegie units to earneda [sic] high school diploma." Id. at 117-28 (Amended IEP). The Amended IEP also provided an additional accommodation of reading out loud to A.D. test questions (math, science, and composition) in the classroom and during statewide assessments. Id. at 127.
Dissatisfied with the results of the May Meeting and the reduction in A.D.'s hours of specialized instruction, Ms. Dixon filed a Due Process Complaint on July 9, 2013. See id. at 147-58. The Due Process Complaint alleges that DCPS denied A.D. a FAPE by changing the student's placement to Eastern High School and " by providing the student with an inappropriate IEP in May of 2013 in order to shoe-horn the student into a placement at Eastern SHS while failing to take into account the student's needs and without justification or supporting data." Id. at 151, 154. The Due Process Complaint specifically alleged that the Amended IEP was inappropriate because it reduced the student's hours of specialized instruction without justification or data and " because it contains goals that are aligned with the 8th grade common core standards and are not individualized or based on the needs or current abilities of the student." Id. at 155-56.
Following a prehearing conference, the Hearing Officer identified the following two issues for hearing:
1. Whether DCPS denied the student a FAPE by failing to develop an appropriate IEP for the student on May 20, 2013, specifically reducing the student's specialized instruction from 31 hours per week outside of the general education environment to 15 hours per week of specialized instruction outside of the general education environment and changing the student's placement from a public separate school to a program within a regular public school?
2. Whether DCPS denied the student a FAPE by failing to develop an appropriate IEP for the student on May 20, 2013, specifically by failing to develop appropriate annual academic goals based on the ...