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Brown v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 13, 2016

ANTONIO BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROYCE C. LAMBERTH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Antonio Brown files this action under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et. seq, claiming that he was denied a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”), as the statute requires. In bringing this lawsuit, plaintiff also seeks to reverse the decision of an impartial hearing officer, who ruled against the plaintiff at the administrative level. Plaintiff now brings the following claims, all of which the hearing officer denied, alleging that he was denied a FAPE because: (i) District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”) failed to create an appropriate Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) for him at two IEP meetings held in the summer of 2014; (ii) DCPS failed to discuss and determine his physical placement during the IEP meetings; (iii) DCPS neglected to consider new data regarding plaintiff’s special education needs following a violent shooting; (iv) DCPS placed plaintiff in Anacostia Senior High School (“Anacostia HS”), which plaintiff claims was incapable of providing him a FAPE; (v) DCPS failed to issue a prior written notice regarding his placement in Anacostia HS; and (vi) DCPS inappropriately changed plaintiff’s placement from a full-time special education school to a less restrictive environment. Compl. ¶ 52.

Plaintiff now seeks a declaratory judgment stating that DCPS denied him a FAPE and requests that the Court order DCPS to issue a written notice for plaintiff to attend New Beginnings Vocational School (“New Beginnings”). Id. at 35-36. Additionally, plaintiff requests that DCPS be ordered to fund tuition and transportation to attend New Beginnings retroactive to January 6, 2014, convene an IEP meeting to incorporate new data, and if additional information is needed, administer medical and psychological evaluations to determine the full extent of plaintiff’s special education needs. Id. at 36.

Recently before the Court were plaintiff’s [10] motion for summary judgment, defendant’s [14] cross-motion for summary judgement, and plaintiff’s [19] objection to the Magistrate Judge’s report and recommendation [18]. As stated in an Order [21] dated March 31, 2016, in consideration of the parties’ filings, the applicable law, and the record herein, the Court finds that the plaintiff has been denied a FAPE and will therefore grant his motion for summary judgment and deny defendant’s cross-motion for summary judgment.

In reaching this result, the Court finds that the defects in plaintiff’s IEP-specifically the District’s failure to describe the plaintiff’s least restrictive environment-deprived plaintiff of a FAPE. Moreover, the Court finds that the District’s failure to convene a meeting or incorporate the effects of plaintiff’s recent shooting-related injuries represents a second, independent instance in which plaintiff was denied a FAPE. To remedy these violations, the Court finds it is appropriate to order DCPS to assign plaintiff to New Beginnings, to fund his tuition and transportation to attend New Beginnings retroactively effective January 6, 2014, to require the District to convene a new IEP meeting, and if needed, administer necessary evaluations to determine the extent and nature of plaintiff’s disabilities. In granting this relief, the Court has rendered plaintiff’s four remaining claims moot.

I. BACKGROUND

The background of this case is provided in detail in the Report and Recommendation. See Report and Recommendation 2-4, ECF No. 18. To summarize, on December 2, 2013, a hearing officer found that DCPS denied plaintiff-who was nineteen years old at the time-a FAPE by failing to timely identify, locate, and evaluate him for special education services. Id. at 2. The hearing officer then ordered DCPS to fund tuition, fees, and transportation for the plaintiff to attend New Beginnings until a multidisciplinary team (“MDT”) met to determine his eligibility.

After the hearing officer determined that DCPS denied plaintiff a FAPE, DCPS personnel met twice in the summer of 2014 to determine how best to deal with plaintiff’s case. Report & Recommendation 2, ECF No. 18. First, on June 26, 2014, his MDT met and “determined that Plaintiff was eligible for special education and related services under the disability classification of Specific Learning Disability.” Id. Next, on July 29, 2014, plaintiff’s IEP team met and developed his IEP for the 2014-2015 school year. Id. On the page of plaintiff’s IEP entitled “Least Restrictive Environment” (“LRE”), the IEP team simply listed the number of hours of specialized instruction and behavioral support services plaintiff would receive and noted that plaintiff required “intense remediation in all areas.” Id.; see also Administrative Record 83, ECF No. 9-3 (showing the page of plaintiff’s IEP entitled “Least Restrictive Environment”). Indeed, the team did not indicate or describe plaintiff’s LRE or the type of placement he needed along the continuum of alternative placements. Report & Recommendation 2 (noting that the LRE page of the IEP contained no explanation for why “services cannot be provided in the general education setting”); see also Id . at 11 (stating that the hearing officer expressly noted the IEP failed to discuss plaintiff’s LRE and to undertake consideration of alternative placements). With this information missing, plaintiff’s IEP was then finalized on August 26, 2014. Id. at 2.

Roughly two months after the IEP was complete, DCPS sent a letter to Plaintiff stating that he was to be relocated from New Beginnings and that his “‘new location of special education services for the 2014-2015 school year is Anacostia HS.’” Id. at 3 (quoting Letter from DCPS, Administrative Record 121, ECF No. 9-3). DCPS had found, essentially, that “Anacostia HS is the DCPS school that has the programming to meet Plaintiff’s IEP needs.” Id. Believing both that the District violated his procedural rights afforded under the IDEA and that New Beginnings was the only school that could appropriately serve his needs, plaintiff filed an administrative complaint on October 23, 2014, alleging that the DCPS denied him a FAPE. Id.

On November 3, 2014, DCPS filed a response denying plaintiff’s allegations, which presented the following issues to be determined by a hearing officer at a December 2014 due process hearing:

a. Whether DCPS denied plaintiff a FAPE by failing to create an appropriate IEP for plaintiff at the IEP meetings held on June 25, 2014 and July 29, 2014 and through the present time:
1. whether DCPS failed to discuss, determine, and indicate on the IEP what the appropriate LRE was for plaintiff and the type of placement plaintiff needed along the continuum of alternative placements;
2. whether DCPS denied plaintiff a FAPE by failing to discuss and determine plaintiff’s placement at the IEP meetings held on June 25, 2014 and July 29, 2014, and instead delegating the placement decision to a team that did not include the plaintiff or individuals knowledgeable about plaintiff;
3. whether DCPS denied plaintiff a FAPE by failing to attend to new data presented to the Agency following the meetings on June 25, 2014 and July 29, 2014 regarding plaintiff’s needs following a severe injury from a shooting, and by failing to hold a meeting to discuss these new needs and update his present levels of performance, despite requests from plaintiff’s representatives;
b. Whether DCPS denied plaintiff a FAPE when it placed plaintiff at Anacostia HS on October 22, 2014:
1. whether DCPS denied plaintiff a FAPE by failing to offer plaintiff a placement/program/school capable of providing him a FAPE, given his needs at the current time;
2. whether DCPS failed to issue a prior written notice, or otherwise place plaintiff in a particular educational program/placement within District High School, depriving the plaintiff of the ability to make meaningful educational decisions for himself;
3. whether DCPS inappropriately changed plaintiff’s educational placement from a full-time special education day school ...

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