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E.L. Haynes Public Charter School v. Frost

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 22, 2015

E.L. HAYNES PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL, Plaintiff,
v.
CHAUN FROST, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, District Judge.

E.L. Haynes Public Charter school (E.L. Haynes) seeks judicial review of a Hearing Officer's Determination and Order (HOD) rendered in favor of chaun Frost, the parent and next friend of A.T., a minor, [1] following an administrative due process hearing under the Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. E.L. Haynes challenges the factual and legal conclusions of the HOD and the Order that E.L. Haynes find A.T. in need of special education and provide her with various remedies. Ms. Frost supports the Hearing Officer's Decision in while. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The Court has considered the administrative record and the parties' briefs carefully and concludes that the Hearing Officer's Decision must be reversed in part. Therefore, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the motions for summary judgment.

I. FACTS

A.T. is a fifteen-year-old student who was enrolled at E.L. Haynes for the 2011-2012 (seventh grade), 2012-2013 (eighth grade), and 2013-2014 (ninth grade) school years. Administrative Record (AR)[2] at 826. At the end of her seventh grade year, in 2012, A.T. was admitted to [REDACTED\] for weight loss due tom orbid obesity and weight management on June 14, 2012. The medical director at [REDACTED\] diagnosed A.T. with morbid obesity and intermittent explosive disorder. Id. at 148. A.T. received individual, group, and family therapy at [REDACTED\]. Id. at 133-34.

A.T. worked on an 8th grade curriculum while at [REDACTED\] Id. at 136-37. At the time of her discharge. [REDACTED\] summarized A.T.'s academic work as follows:

[A.T.] worked consistently on her academic coursework from E.L. Haynes Middle School. She worked well on academic assignments and enjoyed participating on special projects. [A.T.] also completed supplemental assignments when she had completed her assigned work. At times she displayed role model behaviors in class and asked for assistance when clarification was necessary. [A.T.] had a good work ethic and enjoyed working on challenging word puzzles when her course work was completed.

Id. at 136. Her "attitude towards school improved over time" and she "worked on reducing incidences of rude and inappropriate comments during instructional time." Id.

Although A.T. experienced a reduction in anxiety over the course of her stay at [REDACTED\] she "remain[ed] somewhat anxious and [was] prone to experiencing stress-related somatic symptoms" and had "moderately high reactive anger and moderately low anger control" when she was discharged on October 18, 2012. Id. at 134-35, 524, 527. [REDACTED\] reported that A.T. "made progress in appropriate social skills. She does continue to exhibit rude and disrespectful behavior to peers and staff, but is easily redirected." Id. at 138. A.T. "has learned what stress is and how it impacts her on physical, emotional and behavioral levels.... A.T. has learned over 3 relaxation, visualization, breathing techniques and basic meditation and yoga techniques." Id. at 136. [REDACTED\] identified A.T.'s prognosis as "guarded" and noted that she "will continue to require individual therapy, family therapy, and nutritional counseling." Id. at 135, 139. As a result of her stay at [REDACTED\], A.T. missed the first 43 days of the 2012-2013 school year. Id. at 774. She returned to E.L. Haynes on October 22, 2012. Id.

In August 2012, while A.T. was a [REDACTED\], her mother asked that A.T. be evaluated for special education and signed a consent form for that purpose, Shortly after A.T. returned to E.L. Haynes, the School's psychologist Cassandra Class completed a confidential psycho-educational evaluation of A.T. on November 5, 2012 (Psych/Ed Evaluation). Id. at 147-160.

A multi-disciplinary team (MDT) convened on November 8, 2012 to consider the Psych/Ed Evaluation and determine whether A.T. was eligible for special education. Id. at 567. Members of the multi-disciplinary team included Plaintiff Chaun Frost, A.T.'s mother; Cheryl Frost, A.T.'s grandmother; Julie Holt, Inclusion Coordinator; Rabiah Harris, A.T.'s general education teacher; beth Barnes, A.T.'s 8th grade inclusion teacher; Cassandra Class; and Teri Johnson-Stokes, School Social Worker. Id. at 566. The team reviewed information from a variety of sources, including the results of an earlier 2009 psychological evaluation, which showed that A.T. scored in the average range for academic and cognitive skills. Id. at 555-59; 567-68. The team discussed Ms. Class' Psych/Ed Evaluation, including her cognitive assessments, achievements tests, the Behavior Assessment System for Children, Second Edition (BASC-II), and a summary of A.T.'s health history. Id.

As summarized in the Psych/Ed Evaluation, A.T.'s medical history sowed that A.T. took medication for diabetes, ADHD, asthma, and gastrointestinal problems and had been diagnosed with ADHD, oppositional defiance disorder, enuresis, morbid obesity and, intermittent explosive disorder. Id. at 148, 158. She had been admitted to the Psychiatric Institute of Washington in March and May of 2012 for emotional issues. Id. at 148. The Psych/Ed Evaluation noted that A.T. participated in weekly outpatient therapy and was under the care of a psychiatrist. Id. at 158.

The Psych/Ed Evaluation reported on A.T.'s cognitive and academic achievement based on testing conducted in November 2012. Id. at 150-153. Although A.T. generally received average scores, testing indicated that A.T. "may have skills gaps in her knowledge of applied mathematical concepts." Id. at 153. A.T. "scored within the Below Average range on the Math Problem Solving subtest" and struggled with items "pertaining to probability, fractions, and geometry." Id. She also performed below average in areas assessing her knowledge of verbal similarities, sequential and quantitative reasoning, and essay composition, but "did not appear to demonstrate her best effort on this task." Id. at 150, 152. Based on A.T.'s performance on the various assessments and achievement tests, Ms. Class concluded:

[A.T.'s] cognitive ability is within the Average range. [A.T.'s] performance on the achievement assessment[s] suggest Averave skills, in comparison to her same-aged peers, in basic reading skills, reading comprehension, oral reading fluency, written expression, and math computation. She scored within the Below Average range on the Essay Composition subtest, however she only wrote for six of the ten minutes allotted. Additionally, [A.T.] scored within the Below Average range on a measure of applied math skills, which may be a result of skill gaps from attending multiple schools.

Id. at 158.

Ms. Class conducted a thirty-munute classroom observation as part of her evaluation and observed that A.T. "appeared drowsy and often placed her head down on the table, despite frequent redirection from her teacher to sit up... did not take notes or seem concerned with her performance on the assignment." Id. at 148-49, 158. In one-on-one testing, A.T. "displaying a flat affect and again appeared fatigued." Id. at 158. Ms. Class concluded that "the results of this evaluation should be interpreted with caution given the likelihood that [A.T.] was experiencing side effects from her medications at the time of testing." Id.

The results of the BASC-II, based on the ratings of Ms. Frost and A.T.'s seventh grade teachers, were that A.T. was experiencing at-risk or clinically significant levels of hyperactivity, aggression, conduct problems, anxiety, depression, somatization, internalizing problems, attention problems, school problems, learning problems, atypicality, withdrawal and behavioral symptoms. Id. at 153-54. "[A]ll rates reported At-Risk to Clinically Significant levels of Hyperactivity and Aggression." Id. at 154-55. Two of A.T.'s seventh grade teachers reported that A.T. "has difficulty keeping up in class, completing tests, and maintaining good grades." Id. at 155. Despite these evaluations and observations, A.T.'s seventh grade teachers reported that A.T.'s "motional/behavioral difficulties have only a mild impact on her educational performance." Id.

During the November 2012 MDT meeting, A.T.'s eighth-grade teaches provided classroom observations of A.T. They noted that A.T. was "resilient, " "[worked] well with other people, which is a positive change from last year, " was "participating in class, " and was "pushing herself." Id. at 567-68. The Team discussed that A.T. scored in the average range for nearly every subtest in the November 2012 evaluation. Id .; see also id. at 152-53, 192-93, 536, 540-42. Because the eighth-grade curriculum was built on knowledge learned in the first quarter of the school year, the Team concluded that A.T. missed learning foundational skills while she was hospitalized at Cumberland and may require remedial tutoring. Id. at 567. The Team agreed that A.T. would "be able to catch up and get back on track with relatively little time spent on tutoring." Id. at 568. Further, the meeting notes document that "the teachers and [A.T.'s] family did not feel that emotional concerns impact her academic success." Id.

The Team unanimously agreed that A.T. was ineligible for special education because its members were "not seeing academic impact." Id. at 551, 566-68. The Team discussed A.T.'s eligibility for accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., and decided to review Section 504 eligibility once A.T. had undergone outside psychiatric testing. Id. at 568. On November 16, 2012, E.L. Haynes sent a Final Eligibility Determination Report to Ms. Frost, which confirmed the Team's finding that A.T. was ineligible for special education under the IDEA at that time:

LEA [local educational agency] refuses to identify the student as a student with a disability as defined in IDEA. The LEA does not believe that [A.T.] current difficulties are a disability that qualify under IDEA. [A.T.] does struggle with emotional concerns and medical concerns, but thus far, she has been able to be successful in school.

Id. at 560.[3] Ms. Frost did not object or disagree.

On March 25, 2013, a team met to determine A.T.'s Section 504 eligibility. Id. at 588. That Team consisted of Ariel Van Doren, Family Therapist; Chaun Frost, A.T.'s mother; Cheryl Frost, A.T.'s grandmother; Kandiss Wiggins, Community Support Worker; Veronza Eason; Connie Parham, A.T.'s math teacher; Julie Holt, Inclusion Coordinator; and Teri Johnson-Stokes, School Social Worker. Id. at 587. The Section 504 Team concluded that A.T. was eligible for accommodations and adopted a Section 504 plan for A.T. Id. at 579-82, 584-85, 588.

On January 24, 2014, a Section 504 Team meeting was held to review A.T.'s Section 504 plan. Id. at 610-614. Mia Long, an educational advocate for A.T.. asked E.L. Haynes to reconsider A.T.'s eligibility for special education. Id. at 611. E.L. Haynes did not believe that A.T. needed the support of special education, but proposed to "revisit the need for an [individualized education plan (IEP)] and possibility of an alternative placement" after the completion of a functional behavior assessment (FBA) and psychiatric evaluation. Id. By letter dated January 27, 2014, Ms. Frost dissented from the outcome of the January 24, 2014 meeting and reiterated her desire that A.T. "be found eligible for an IEP and that she placed in a full time therapeutic program, presumably at a different school. Id. at 618.

On January 31, 2014, Ms. Frost, on behalf of A.T., filed an administrative due process complaint, complaining that E.L. Haynes failed to provide A.T. with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) at meetings held on November 25, 2012, March 25, 2013 and January 24, 2014 and failed to assess A.T. in all areas of suspected disability. Id. at 5-16.

On March 13, 2014, Ms. Class and Adriana Salcedo, a social worker, completed a functional behavior assessment of A.T. Id. at 659-664. The functional behavior assessment concluded that A.T. had attended only 32 of 117 instructional days in 2013-2014 of school because she refused to go to school. Id. at 659.

Dr. Todd Christiansen completed a psychiatric evaluation of A.T. on March 13, 2014, which did not include an interview with A.T. because she refused to talk with him. Id. at 666-72, 1114. Ms. Frost also limited her discussion with Dr. Christiansen to ten minutes. Id. at 834. Dr. Christiansen concluded that a dysfunctional family dynamic was the reason for A.T.'s refusal to attend school. Id. at 671, 1119. On March 18, 2014, Ms. Frost requested an independent educational evaluation because she disagreed with Dr. Christiansen's psychiatric evaluation. Id. at 681. E.L. Haynes refused to fund an independent educational evaluation, but suggested that Dr. Christiansen could interview. A.T. and write an addendum to his report. Id. at 686. Ms. Frost rejected E.L. Haynes' proposal and refused to let Dr. Christiansen continue his evaluation of A.T. Id. at 685.

Ms. Frost filed a second administrative due process complaint on March 28, 2014, alleging that E.L. Haynes failed to authorize funding for an independent educational evaluation to allow a private provider to conduct a psychiatric assessment of A.T. Id. at 28, 47. On April 7, 2014, E.L. Haynes answered the second due process complaint and filed a counterclaim defending Dr. Christiansen's pshychiatric evaluation. Id. 40. The two complaints dated January 31, 2014 and March 28, 2014 were consolidated and a due process hearing was held on May 16, 2014 and May 19, 2014 before a hearing officer. Id. at 101, 827. The Hearing Officer certified following three issues for the hearing:

A. Did Respondent deny the Student a FAPE when it failed to determine that the Student was eligible for services in its meetings dated November 8, ...

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