United States District Court, District of Columbia
K.P. et al., Plaintiffs,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER United States District Judge
K.P. is an autistic 13-year-old student in the District of Columbia Public School System (“DCPS”) who is eligible to receive special-education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. During the 2013–14 school year, K.P. attended high school in a specialized program for high-functioning autistic students. Pls.’ Mot. Prelim. Inj. Ex. 1 (“2015 Hearing Officer Decision”) at 5. In October 2014, DCPS changed K.P.’s placement from the specialized autism program within her high school to a larger, mixed-disabilities program in the same school. Id. K.P.’s parents objected to this change in placement and eventually brought a due process complaint challenging the change and DCPS’s alleged failure to include sufficient information in K.P.’s Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) to comply with the IDEA.
A hearing officer reviewed the due process complaint and, on June 29, 2015, found that the change in placement, and DCPS’s failure to provide information in K.P.’s IEP about the type of classroom setting she needed, had denied K.P. a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”). Consequently, the hearing officer ordered DCPS to “convene an IEP meeting to revise [K.P.’s] IEP to include specific information about [her Least Restrictive Environment (“LRE”)], including the classroom size and disability classifications that should be a part of her educational program.” Id. at 14. The hearing officer also ordered DCPS to begin funding a variety of compensatory educational services for K.P. Id. The hearing officer, however, declined to order a non-public placement, because K.P. “was able to make academic progress and demonstrate appropriate behaviors [in her public placement] prior to the placement change in October 2014, ” and thus a non-public placement would not be “the least restrictive environment in which [she] can make academic progress.” Id. at 13. Plaintiffs bring this action primarily to enforce the majority of the hearing officer’s decision and the hearing officer’s order to convene a meeting of K.P.’s IEP team, revise her IEP, and provide K.P. with compensatory education. Compl. 13. Plaintiffs also ask this Court to overturn the hearing officer’s finding that a non-public placement is not K.P.’s least restrictive environment. Id. Attempting to bring these two claims under the IDEA, Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief in the form of a “stay-put” order pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j), asking that DCPS “maintain K.P.’s then-current educational placement during the pendency of all proceedings.” Pls.’ Mot. Prelim. Inj. 1.
Now before the Court is the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation, entered on August 28, 2015, recommending that Plaintiffs’ Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction be denied. The Court finds that this suit is primarily an action to enforce a favorable decision of a hearing officer and that Plaintiffs’ narrow challenge to one of the hearing officer’s findings is contingent on resolution of the enforcement issue. Because the Court holds that there is no right of action under the IDEA to enforce the favorable decision of a hearing officer, and that Plaintiffs’ limited challenge to the hearing officer’s decision is not ripe for review, the Court will adopt in part the report of the Magistrate Judge and accept in full the recommendations of the Magistrate Judge.
The Magistrate Judge provided a detailed explanation of the factual and procedural background of this case in Parts I and II of the Report and Recommendation. The Court adopts in full those explanations, reproduced with stylistic modifications as Sections I.A and I.B of this Memorandum Opinion.
A. Factual Background
K.P. is an autistic 13-year-old student in the District of Columbia Public School System. 2015 HOD at 4. K.P. is eligible to receive special-education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. See id. Because of K.P.’s eligibility under the IDEA, DCPS was required to (and did) convene a meeting of a multidisciplinary team to develop an IEP for K.P. See 20 U.S.C. § 1414.
1. 2013 IEP
In June 2013, K.P.’s IEP contained provisions for many special-education services. These services were chosen as a result of meetings between K.P.’s parents and her IEP team at her school. Pursuant to the 2013 IEP, K.P. was to receive 26.5 hours per week of special education outside a general-education setting. 2013 IEP at 9. K.P. was also to receive 120 minutes per month of speech-language therapy. Id. K.P.’s 2013 IEP further required that K.P. receive certain classroom accommodations, including small-group testing. Id. at 11.
2. 2013 Hearing Officer’s Decision (HOD)
On September 3, 2013, K.P.’s parents filed a “due process complaint” with DCPS’s Office of Dispute Resolution, challenging several aspects of the 2013 IEP. 2013 HOD at 2; 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(7)(A). As a component of their relief, K.P.’s parents sought for DCPS to fund K.P.’s attendance at a private-school special-education program, alleging that her current public-school program was insufficient. 2013 HOD at 19–20. On November 26, 2013, the hearing officer issued his decision regarding Plaintiffs’ complaint. See id. As part of his findings of fact, the officer observed that
10. [K.P.’s] 2013 IEP provided that [she] would receive full-time Specialized Instruction in the Outside General Education setting and 120 minutes per month of Speech-Language Pathology Outside General Education. The IEP identified [K.P.’s] proposed Exit Category as “H.S. Diploma” and provided that she would participate in the Regular Statewide DC-CAS Assessment with accommodations. Exhibit R-10.
11. For the 2013-2014 school year, [K.P.] is in a self-contained class at City High School. There are five students in the class. The teaching staff are a High School Special Education teacher and a classroom teaching assistant.
3. May 2014 IEP
In May 2014, K.P.’s IEP was revised. Under this 2014 IEP, K.P. was to receive 26.25 hours per week of special education outside a general-education setting. 2014 IEP at 10. K.P. was also to receive 90 minutes per month of speech-language therapy and 120 minutes per day of behavioral-support services, both provided on a consultation basis. Id. at 10. K.P.’s IEP further required that K.P. ...