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Holman v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

January 28, 2016

RAQUEL HOLMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant

          For RAQUEL HOLMAN, Plaintiff: Douglas Tyrka, TYRKA & ASSOCIATES, LLC, McLean, VA.

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

          OPINION

         ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, United States District Judge.

         Raquel Holman, a special education student who is now over the age of 18, complains that the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) denied her a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in violation of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as modified by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. An Independent Hearing Officer found that DCPS failed to provide Ms. Holman her prescribed specialized instruction for her last year of high school and that DCPS excluded Ms. Holman and her guardian from certain meetings concerning Ms. Holman's education. Despite these findings, the Hearing Officer refused to order compensatory education as a remedy because Ms. Holman had graduated from high school and, therefore, he concluded that DCPS's actions did not cause her any harm.

         Ms. Holman now moves for summary judgment and asks the Court to award her compensatory education. See MSJ [Dkt. 9]. DCPS filed a timely opposition to the motion, to which Ms. Holman replied. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Ms. Holman's motion for summary judgment and reverse in part the Hearing Officer's decision as contrary to the evidence and the law.

         I. FACTS

         A. Statutory Framework

         In general, IDEA " aims to ensure that every child has a meaningful opportunity to benefit from public education." Boose v. District of Columbia, 786 F.3d 1054, 1056 (D.C. Cir. 2015). The statute 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). Under IDEA, school systems must promptly identify, locate, and evaluate every child with disabilities residing in the district who is in need of special education and related services. Id. § 1412(a)(3)(A). Once a disabled child is identified, the child's parents, teachers, school officials, and other professionals collaborate in an " IEP team" to develop an individualized education program (IEP) to meet the child's unique needs. See id. § § 1412(a)(4), 1414(d)(1)(B).

         The IEP is a written statement that is reviewed annually and includes goals and instructional objectives for the student's education, services to be provided, projections regarding the dates on which such services are to be offered, and criteria for evaluating whether instructional objectives are met. Id. § § 1401(14), 1414(d)(1)(A); see also Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 311, 108 S.Ct. 592, 98 L.Ed.2d 686 (1988). The IEP team may determine that in order to benefit from special education, the student requires " related services" -- i.e., non-educational, supportive services such as physical and occupational therapy and psychological counseling. See id. § 1414(d)(1)(B); 34 C.F.R. § 300.24(a). " [T]he IEP must, at a minimum, provide personalized instruction with sufficient support services to permit the child to benefit educationally from that instruction . . . ." Reid ex rel. Reid v. District of Columbia, 401 F.3d 516, 519, 365 U.S.App.D.C. 234 (D.C. Cir. 2005). IDEA also requires that " [a]s soon as possible following development of the IEP, special education and related services are made available to the child in accordance with the child's IEP." Honig, 484 U.S. at 311.

         To determine whether a FAPE has been provided, courts must determine whether: (1) the school complied with the IDEA's procedures; and (2) the IEP developed through those procedures was reasonably calculated to enable the student to receive educational benefits. Loren F. v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys., 349 F.3d 1309, 1312 (11th Cir. 2003). While the District of Columbia is required to provide a FAPE to disabled students, it is not required to, and does not guarantee, any particular outcome or any particular level of academic success. See Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Central Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 192, 102 S.Ct. 3034, 73 L.Ed.2d 690 (1982); Dorros v. District of Columbia, 510 F.Supp.2d 97, 100 (D.D.C. 2007).

         IDEA is " violated when a school district deviates materially from a student's IEP." Wilson v. District of Columbia, 770 F.Supp.2d 270, 275 (D.D.C. 2011) (emphasis in original) (citations omitted). " A material failure occurs when there is more than a minor discrepancy between the services a school provides to a disabled child and the services required by the child's IEP." Van Duyn ex rel. Van Duyn v. Baker Sch. Dist. 5J, 502 F.3d 811, 822 (9th Cir. 2007); see also Turner v. District of Columbia, 952 F.Supp.2d 31, 40 (D.D.C. 2013). Moreover, " the materiality standard does not require that the child suffer demonstrable education harm in order to prevail." Wilson, 770 F.Supp.2d at 275 (emphasis in original) (quoting Van Duyn, 502 F.3d at 822). Instead, " it is the proportion of services mandated to those provided that is the crucial measure for purposes of determining whether there has been a material failure to implement." Turner, 952 F.Supp.2d at 41 (citing Wilson, 770 F.Supp.2d at 275).

         If a parent objects to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of a disabled child, or whether she is receiving a FAPE, the parent may seek a due process hearing before a D.C. Hearing Officer, who issues a determination known as a Hearing Officer Decision. 20 U.S.C. § § 1415(b)(6), 1415(f)(1)(A). If a party is dissatisfied with that decision, it may appeal to a D.C. court or federal district court. See id. § 1415(i)(2)(A). In terms of a remedy or relief, " [w]here a school system fails to provide special education or related services, a student is entitled to compensatory education." Walker v. District of Columbia, 157 F.Supp.2d 11, 30 (D.D.C. 2001) (citations omitted). Compensatory education consists of prospective services " reasonably calculated to provide the educational benefits that likely would have accrued from special education services the school district should have supplied in the first place." Reid, 401 F.3d at 524.

         B. Background

         Ms. Holman was at all relevant times a DCPS student eligible for special education under IDEA. See Administrative Record [Dkt. 8] (AR) at 114 (May 30, 2013 IEP Team Meeting). She attended Dunbar High School in her sophomore (2012-2013) and junior (2013-2014) years in high school. Id. Tracy Holman, Ms. Holman's grandmother, was her guardian and participated in meetings concerning Ms. ...


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