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Hill v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 26, 2016

SYLVIA HILL et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          G. MICHAEL HARVEY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         In this action, Plaintiff Sylvia Hill and her son, Plaintiff “R.H.” (together, referred to as “Plaintiffs”), seek reversal of the administrative hearing officer's determination, issued on August 12, 2014, denying all of their requested relief. They initiated this action under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (“IDEA”), alleging that the District of Columbia Public School System (“DCPS”) denied R.H. a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”). Following the parties' consent to the undersigned's authority, this matter was referred to this Court for all purposes. Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Upon review of the record, [1] the Court will grant in part Plaintiffs' motion and deny DCPS' motion.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiff R.H.

         R.H. is a nineteen-year-old student with a specific learning disability relating to academic performance and social-emotional functioning. AR 59.[2] During the 2011-2012, 2012-2013, and 2013-2014 school years, R.H. attended Eastern Senior High School (“Eastern”), a District of Columbia Public School. Compl. ¶ 8. This case concerns only the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years, during which R.H. was enrolled in the ninth grade. He and his family were homeless from 2011-2013, AR 149, until they obtained housing within Eastern's enrollment boundary, see id. at 112. During the school years at issue, R.H. exhibited chronic absenteeism and academic underperformance. See e.g., id. at 97 (failing Algebra I during the 2012-2013 school year because “[R.H.] did not complete the final exam . . . and he had 106 absences”), 118 (failing Public Policy during the 2013-2014 school year because “[R.H.] only comes 1 day a week and [the class] meets daily”). By the end of the 2013-2014 school year, R.H. had failed the ninth grade for the third consecutive year. Compl. ¶ 9.

         B. Plaintiffs' Due Process Complaint

         On May 16, 2014, Plaintiffs filed an administrative due process complaint, alleging that DCPS violated R.H.'s right to a FAPE. AR 192. Plaintiffs raised ten separate issues in their complaint, including DCPS' alleged failure to: (1) provide access to R.H.'s school records; (2) perform a comprehensive evaluation of R.H.; (3) perform comprehensive re-evaluations of R.H. upon Ms. Hill's request; (4) conduct a complete functional behavior assessment (“FBA”)[3] of R.H.; (5) timely authorize an independent educational evaluation (“IEE”); (6) review existing evaluations to develop R.H.'s individualized education programs (“IEPs”); (7) develop appropriate IEPs based on R.H.'s educational needs; (8) properly implement R.H.'s IEPs; (9) provide an appropriate placement; and (10) include Ms. Hill in the IEP decision making process. Id. Plaintiffs' proposed remedies included a declaration that DCPS denied R.H. a FAPE; an order for DCPS to fund R.H.'s placement at New Beginnings Vocational School (“New Beginnings”); and an order to convene a new IEP meeting to review available evaluations, request funding for additional IEEs, and determine appropriate compensatory education for R.H. Id. at 202-03.[4]

         C. The Administrative Record

         On August 6, 2014, a due process hearing was held before a hearing officer. Id. at 443- 785. Several days later, the hearing officer issued her hearing officer's determination (“HOD”), denying all of Plaintiffs' requested relief. Id. at 3-13. This HOD was based on evidence in the academic record, including R.H.'s IEPs, multiple evaluations, Plaintiffs' representations, and testimony from special education experts. See id. The relevant portions of the administrative record are recounted below.

         1. January 2013 IEP

         On December 11, 2012, a multidisciplinary team (“MDT”) met to discuss R.H.'s academic status at Eastern. Id. at 23. During this meeting, Ms. Hill participated telephonically, and her legal representative and advocate, Jazmone Taylor, attended in person. Id. The rest of the MDT consisted of James Robinson, who represented the local educational agency (“LEA”); Travis Cox, R.H.'s case manager; and a social worker. Id. The team discussed R.H.'s inconsistent attendance, his academic standing, his school uniform, and the availability of transportation to and from school. Id. The team created an attendance plan, encouraging R.H. to remain after school for extracurricular activities. Id. Further, it confirmed that R.H. “is receiving transportation every month from Mr. [LaVaughn] Turner, ” and arranged for Mr. Cox to “ask teachers to provide work packet[s] for [the] first 3 weeks of school.” Id. Finally, the team arranged for R.H. to wash his uniform at school. Id.

         Following the MDT meeting, Mr. Cox telephoned Ms. Hill to notify her about R.H.'s upcoming IEP meeting on January 11, 2013, to which Ms. Hill responded that she would attend. Id. at 25. Mr. Cox also informed R.H. to attend school “so that [Mr. Cox] could test him for the IEP.” Id. On January 7, 2013, Mr. Cox sent R.H. home with a draft IEP so that Ms. Hill could participate in the meeting by phone. Id. at 30. Plaintiffs ultimately did not attend or directly participate in this meeting, though Ms. Taylor, their educational advocate, attended in person. Id. at 37. The IEP meeting was held on January 11, 2013, to update R.H.'s IEP goals in light of the results from recent academic and vocational assessments. Id. at 35. Attendees included a general education teacher; a social worker; Mr. Robinson, the LEA representative; and Mr. Cox, who interpreted R.H.'s evaluation results and served as the team's special education teacher. Id. at 37.

         This IEP diagnosed R.H. with a “specific learning disability, ”[5] prescribed annual goals for three academic areas of concern - including mathematics, reading, and writing - and outlined a post-secondary transition plan for R.H. Id. at 42-54. Baselines for R.H.'s academic areas of concern were developed from the results of his Woodcock-Johnson III Test of Achievement (“WJ-III ACH”) from December 18, 2012. Id. at 42-45.[6] First, R.H.'s math score placed him in the “low range, ” showing that “he lacks some foundational math skills.” Id. at 42. Specifically, R.H. obtained (1) a “low” broad math standard score (“SS”) of 70, which correlates to a grade equivalence (“GE”) of 4.7; (2) a “very low” calculation SS of 63, which correlates to a GE of 3.8; (3) a “very low” math fluency SS of 67, which correlates to a GE of 3.9; and (4) an “average” applied problems SS of 90, which correlates to a GE of 6.6. Id. The IEP further noted R.H.'s poor Algebra I attendance, which prevented him from “develop[ing] higher order math skills, ” so R.H.'s mathematics goals in this IEP were “to correctly borrow in double-digit subtraction[, ] . . . multiply a double-digit number by a single-digit number[, ] . . . [and] add fractions” with at least 80% proficiency. Id. at 42-43.

         Second, R.H.'s reading score was in the “low range, ” showing a “basic ability to read and comprehend information” and a weakness for decoding unfamiliar words and sounds. Id. at 43. In particular, R.H. received (1) a “low” broad reading SS of 76, which correlates to a GE of 5.2; (2) a “low” letter-word identification SS of 74, which correlates to a GE of 4.8; (3) a reading fluency SS of 76, which correlates to a GE of 5.0; and (4) an “average” passage comprehension SS of 90, which correlates to a GE of 6.7. Id. According to the IEP, R.H.'s weakness in this area “makes it difficult for [him] to read and process passages.” Id. Thus, R.H.'s reading goals included correctly decoding unfamiliar words at his reading level, using context clues to determine the meaning of those words, and independently reading passages and using context to make accurate inferences, all with at least 80% proficiency. Id. at 43-44.

         Finally, R.H. scored in the “very low range” for written expression, highlighting weaknesses with syntax, grammar, handwriting, and particularly with spelling. Id. at 45. According to the WJ-III ACH, R.H. received (1) a “very low” broad writing SS of 62, which correlates to a GE of 3.4; (2) a “low” writing fluency SS of 70, which correlates to a GE of 3.9; (3) a “low” writing samples SS of 76, which correlates to a GE of 4.6; and (4) a “very low” spelling SS of 63, which correlates to a GE of 2.9. Id. The IEP prescribed goals for R.H. to correctly use spelling rules during graded assignments and accurately capitalize and punctuate sentences with at least 80% proficiency. Id. at 45-46.

         The IEP's post-secondary transition plan for R.H. was based on his reported interests as well as the results of his WJ-III ACH and BRIGANCE E-2 assessments - both administered on December 18, 2012. Id. at 50.[7] R.H. reported that he was interested in employment as a mechanic, a construction worker, and a photographer. Id. R.H.'s WJ-III ACH results, described above, indicated that he required additional development of necessary skills to manage a personal budget. Id. The BRIGANCE E-2 assessment revealed that R.H. prefers an outdoor, noisy working environment that requires physical energy, use of hands, and substantial training. Id. Using that information, the IEP prescribed goals for R.H.'s post-secondary education, employment, and independent living. Id. at 51-53. In anticipation of receiving post-secondary technical training, R.H.'s goal was to research technical training programs, for which school officials would provide guidance for one hour during the year. Id. at 51. To achieve full-time employment, R.H.'s goal was to conduct information interviews with mechanics regarding their education and skill requirements, and the school agreed to assist R.H. with interview practice for one hour per month. Id. at 52. As for properly maintaining a budget upon graduating, R.H.'s goal was to work with teachers for one hour per year to ascertain the categories of daily living expenses and the average amounts of each. Id. at 52-53.

         Additionally, the IEP prescribed standardized testing accommodations, specialized instruction, and transportation services for R.H. Id. at 47-49. The testing accommodations allowed R.H. to receive repetition of classroom and testing directions, to write in his test booklets and use a calculator for assistance, and to take tests in a separate setting for an extended duration. Id. at 48. Moreover, the IEP prescribed ten hours of weekly specialized instruction for R.H. that should occur “outside of the general education setting.” Id. at 47. Prior to this IEP, R.H. received this instruction within general education classrooms for only five hours per week, but his failing grades necessitated the change. Id. The IEP also required that R.H. receive access to the Washington Metro System (“Metro”) for transportation to and from school, and it expressly denied R.H. access to extended school year services. Id. at 49.

         2. School-Administered Psychological Evaluation

         During the MDT meeting held on December 11, 2012, Ms. Hill requested that DCPS perform “a comprehensive psychological” evaluation on R.H. because “there were no evaluations on [R.H.'s complete educational] file.” Id. at 24. DCPS obtained Ms. Hill's written consent for this evaluation on January 18, 2013, id. at 56, and the evaluation was conducted on February 14, 2013, id. at 58.

         The results of this evaluation were released in a report on March 4, 2013, which contained results from a Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scale (“RIAS”) and information gathered from interviews with Plaintiffs and R.H.'s teachers. Id.[8] R.H.'s RIAS results included a CIX of 72, a VIX of 84, and a NIX of 81 - all of which fall within the “Low Average” range - and a CMX of 77, which falls within the “Borderline” range. Id. at 65-66. These scores indicated that R.H. more effectively processes verbal information if accompanied by visual representations, that he requires multi-step directions to be broken down and repeated, and that learning accommodations would assist R.H. with initiating and completing assignments. Id. at 66. This evaluation also obtained interviews from R.H.'s English and World History teachers. Id. at 63. R.H.'s English teacher reported that he “[d]oes not come to class often or turn in homework, ” but when R.H. does attend class, he quickly understands the content and acts respectfully towards the teacher. Id. The World History teacher reported that R.H. is focused when attending class, but he never completes homework. Id. Both teachers have previously encouraged R.H. to attend after-school tutorials and have sent R.H. home with make-up work packets, but he never attends after-school tutorials and the packets never return to school. Id.

         During R.H.'s evaluative interview, he reported that he fails to regularly attend school either because of illnesses or, more often, because “he just did not feel like coming.” Id. He also reported attempting homework assignments but struggling to complete them without extra help. Id. R.H. expressed interest in obtaining one-on-one tutoring but was resistant to staying after school for tutoring. Id. The evaluator could not reach Ms. Hill for an interview, but she noted her prior concerns regarding R.H.'s ability to “get to school” and the provision of homework assignments to improve his academic performance. Id. The evaluator also attempted several times to observe R.H. in class, but each attempt was unsuccessful “due to [R.H.'s] inconsistent attendance.” Id. According to the report's summary, the interviews and R.H.'s scores indicated that his “difficulty with memory, social emotional functioning, and academic problems [were] consistent with learning difficulties associated with [a] Specific Learning Disability.” Id. at 69.

         The report recommended that R.H. consult with a social worker or counselor for social-emotional support relating to his “motivation, anxiety, and frustration in the classroom, ” and that an attendance plan or behavioral plan would “assist [R.H.] in getting to school and going to class consistently.” Id. at 70. It also recommended teaching strategies to accommodate R.H.'s specific learning disability, such as providing interactive learning activities, allowing R.H. to take small breaks from larger assignments, and applying a multimodal learning approach. Id. On March 20, 2013, DCPS left a voicemail with Ms. Hill to schedule a meeting to review the report. Id. at 32. The administrative record does not contain a response from Ms. Hill or any other communication from DCPS regarding such a meeting.

         3. Ms. Hill's August 1, 2013 Request for Additional Evaluations

         On August 1, 2013, Plaintiffs submitted a written request for DCPS to perform four independent educational evaluations (“IEEs”) of R.H.:[9] a comprehensive psychological evaluation, an FBA, a speech-language evaluation, and a vocational level II assessment. Id. at 110, 276. On September 13, 2013, Plaintiffs' new legal representative, Nicholas Ostrem, emailed DCPS to assess the status of the pending IEE request. Id. at 106. That same day, Mr. Robinson, the LEA representative, responded that he had not received Plaintiffs' request, but “once [Ms. Hill] signs the consent[, ] DCPS will complete” the requested FBA and speech-language assessment. Id. at 105. On September 17, 2013, Ms. Hill clarified that she also requested IEEs for the comprehensive psychological evaluation and the vocational assessment. Id. at 303. She challenged the comprehensive psychological evaluation from March 4, 2013, and the vocational assessment from December 18, 2012, both of which DCPS had previously conducted. Id.[10] During an MDT meeting on October 10, 2013, Ms. Hill, with Mr. Ostrem present, signed a consent form for DCPS to administer the FBA. Id. at 128. However, DCPS refused to administer a speech-language assessment of R.H. before its speech pathologist could perform a classroom observation “to determine any possible negative effects [R.H.'s] verbal expression abilities [were] having on his academic growth[.]” Id. at 124. The MDT also took note of Ms. Hill's representation that R.H. had received speech-language services for a 10-year-old speech impediment and that it “no longer affect[ed] his communication.” Id. Indeed, a speech-language evaluation was conducted on March 9, 2004, which recommended no services “in the area of speech language.” Id. at 60-61.

         a. School-Administered Functional Behavior Assessment

         After the MDT meeting, DCPS called and emailed Mr. Ostrem on November 25, 2013, to schedule an IEP Team meeting to discuss the forthcoming FBA's results. Id. at 32, 300. The results were released in a report dated December 1, 2013. Id. at 142-45. The meeting was scheduled for December 19, 2013. Id. at 101. According to the FBA report, the examiner gleaned information from classroom observations, teacher questionnaires, an interview with R.H., reviews of R.H.'s attendance records and progress reports, and data from antecedent-behavior-consequence (“ABC”)[11] charts and Ohio Scales.[12] Id. at 143-44.[13]

         The report identified R.H.'s truancy as his primary concern because of its harm to his academic achievement, but the report noted that “[b]ehaviorally[, ] [R.H.] seems to be doing well.” Id. at 142. The report emphasized the results of R.H.'s Ohio Scales assessment, particularly the problem severity section, which “measures occurrences and the significance of problematic behaviors (i.e.[, ] arguing, opposition, lying, sadness, etc.).” Id. Examinees quantify the student's behavior on a scale of 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more significant behavioral issues. Id. Teachers gave R.H. an average score of 2.5 out of 100 for this section: “the lowest average score, given by teachers, that [the examiner] ha[d] ever seen.” Id. Meanwhile, R.H. self-scored his problem severity as 31 out of 100, specifically identifying anger, anxiety, and depression as his problems. Id. The report noted that R.H.'s self-reported score was “clinically significant, ” and that his truancy was likely related to anxiety and depression, but it further noted that R.H.'s problems “most often occur[] before he arrives to school.” Id.

         Next, the report assessed the characteristics of R.H.'s truancy, opining that it results from his lack of motivation, depressive symptoms, and poor self-esteem. Id. In addition, the report identified that R.H.'s homelessness and Ms. Hill's physical ailments as major environmental contributors to his truancy. Id. at 143.[14] At school, R.H. has previously received detention as a consequence for his truancy, but “[he] is rarely consequenced for behavioral incidents due to his routine pattern of good behavior.” Id. Ms. Hill also represented that R.H. receives psychiatric therapy at Community Connections, where he was diagnosed with depression and prescribed treatment. Id. According to the report, therapy appeared to improve R.H.'s decision-making skills and academic performance, considering his 0.8 GPA increase while participating in therapy. Id.

         When analyzing R.H.'s academic problems, the report failed to uncover “any significant problematic behaviors related to resistance, defiance, or opposition.” Id. at 144. Instead, the report concluded that his problems “ha[ve] been completely related to his truancy, ” which partly results from depression and lack of motivation. Id. None of these issues appeared to relate to environmental factors within the school environment; rather, the assessment only revealed off-campus contributors - i.e., homelessness, poverty, and Ms. Hill's physical ailments - in addition to R.H.'s depression and lack of motivation. Id. Ultimately, the report recommended that Plaintiffs schedule a medication evaluation to determine if R.H. could benefit from a Zoloft prescription for his depression, that Ms. Hill encourage R.H. not to skip school to care for her, and that R.H. seek part-time employment to help his family without sacrificing his education. Id. at 144-45.

         b. Independently Administered Psychological Evaluation

         Plaintiffs arranged for an independent comprehensive psychological evaluation at the District's expense, which occurred on November 6, 2013. Id. at 147. This IEE garnered information from interviews with Plaintiffs and teachers, classroom observations, projective tests, and results from four assessments: (1) the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (“WAIS- IV”), which measures cognitive functioning; (2) the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (“WIAT-III”), which measures learning aptitude; (3) the Beery-Buktenica Developmental Test (“Beery VMI”), which measures the integration of visual and motor abilities; and (4) the Behavior Assessment Scale for Children (“BASC-2”), which measures social and emotional functioning through survey responses. Id. at 147-60. Plaintiffs received the results of this evaluation in a report dated December 18, 2013. Id. at 147. Mr. Ostrem forwarded the report to DCPS on that same day. Id. at 101.

         According to the report, the examiner first interviewed R.H. and Mr. Cox - R.H.'s previous case manager and current reading teacher - about his in-class behavior and performance. Id. at 150. Mr. Cox reported that R.H. is focused in his five-person reading class, he works well with classmates and the teacher, he maintains “very high verbal cognition, but is on a seventh grade reading level, ” and his attendance improved from the previous year. Id. R.H. reported significant stress due to his family's homelessness, causing him to feel anger and depression. Id. In his interview, R.H. stated that he hopes to graduate from high school and find work as a landscaper or mechanic. Id. During classroom observations, R.H. followed all directions and was “on-task and focused” for most of class, but he neither completed every in-class assignment nor arrived to class with all necessary materials. Id. at 151.

         Two projective tests - the Graphic Projective Technique and Three Wishes Technique - were also performed in this evaluation. Id. at 159-60. The Graphic Projective Technique asked R.H. to draw pictures of a house, a tree, and a person to “provide a measure of self-perceptions and attitudes.” Id. at 159. According to the drawings, R.H. may suffer from depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, and he may be defiant and aggressive when overwhelmed. Id. The Three Wishes Technique identifies the events that might alleviate anxiety by asking R.H. to name three wishes he would want to come true. Id. R.H. wished for (1) more money, (2) all of his problems to go away, and (3) his mother to walk again. Id. at 159-60. The examiner noted that the content of R.H.'s wishes result from his inability “to cope with the various internal and external stressors” in his life, and the examiner opined that R.H.'s coping mechanism may manifest as hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. Id. at 161.

         Finally, the report included the results of multiple assessments that evaluated R.H.'s academic and social intelligence. The WAIS-IV placed R.H.'s cognitive abilities at the 13th percentile, which falls in the “extremely low” range. Id. at 152. According to the WIAT-III, R.H. received (1) a “below average” oral language SS of 83, which correlated to an average GE of 6.5 and placed his oral language abilities better than or equal to 13% of students his age; (2) a “low” basic reading SS of 62, which correlated to an average GE of 2.6 and placed his basic reading abilities better than or equal to 1% of students his age; (3) a “low” written expression SS of 57, which correlated to an average GE of 2.8 and placed his writing abilities better than or equal to 0.2% of students his age; and (4) an “average” mathematics SS of 73, which correlated to an average GE of 4.8 and placed his mathematics abilities better than or equal to 4% of students his age. Id. at 153-55. In addition, the Beery VMI placed R.H.'s integration of visual and motor abilities in the “below average” range. Id. at 156. R.H.'s BASC-2 survey reported that he is in the “clinically significant” range for depression and anxiety, Mr. Cox's survey reported that R.H. is in the “at risk” range for somatization, [15] and R.H.'s survey indicated “clinically significant” anxiety and somatization, as well as an “at risk” level of depression and sense of inadequacy. Id. at 160.

         The examiner made several recommendations in the report, some of which she later clarified in an affidavit for the due process hearing. See id. at 161-62. In her original report, the examiner recommended that R.H.'s IEP classify R.H. as a student with a special learning disability, but she also recommended including in R.H.'s IEP an “emotional disturbance” classification. Id. at 161.[16] Additionally, she recommended that R.H. receive intensive, full-time specialized instruction in a small class setting. Id. The examiner also believed that R.H. should be placed in a full-time vocational school “which offers training in the auto mechanics trade.” Id. at 161-62. In her affidavit, the examiner reasoned that R.H.'s low academic scores and social difficulties would benefit from a trade school that also remediates academic deficits. Id. at 401. The examiner next recommended that R.H. receive out-of-school tutoring and in-school counseling to address his academic and social difficulties. Id. at 162. Finally, she recommended that R.H. receive a vocational level II assessment “to assist with his vocational goals, and the transition to independent living, ” as well as a speech-language evaluation to “ascertain if [R.H.] will require speech and language services in the school setting.” Id. In her affidavit, the examiner opined that no evidence suggests that R.H. “has ever received [v]ocational testing, ” and that a vocational level II assessment would reveal R.H.'s career aptitude and the necessity for career exploration. Id. at 402.

         4. December 2013 IEP

         During the MDT on October 10, 2013, DCPS coordinated with Plaintiffs to create an attendance plan to address R.H.'s absenteeism. Id. at 124-25. Ms. Hill attended this meeting with Mr. Ostrem, R.H.'s sister, and special education advocate Sharon Millis. Id. at 123. R.H. did not physically attend, but he telephonically joined a portion of the meeting. Id. at 125. DCPS also arranged for several of its representatives to attend this meeting: Mr. Robinson, in his capacity as the LEA representative; Eliza Robinson, as R.H.'s special education teacher and case manager; as well as a social worker and speech pathologist. Id. at 123. At the meeting, R.H. reported that he most commonly stayed home because he either felt ill, needed to care for his sick mother, lacked a clean uniform, or could not use his Metro pass after 9:00 a.m. Id. at 124. R.H. reported that he had received a new Metro pass on October 9, 2013, and DCPS agreed that R.H. could receive new monthly passes from school officials in the future. Id. at 124, 131. DCPS also agreed to allow R.H. to utilize Eastern's laundry facilities to wash his clothes and recommended that R.H. obtain new clothes from community charities as Eastern had no more uniforms to provide. Id. at 131.

         R.H.'s current IEP was set to expire on January 10, 2014, see id. at 40, so his IEP Team agreed to convene an IEP meeting at 12:00 p.m. on December 19, 2013, id. at 101. Prior to this meeting, DCPS collected progress reports from R.H.'s teachers, id. at 136-40, and DCPS administered the FBA described above, id. at 101. DCPS forwarded the FBA to Plaintiffs on December 5, 2013. Id. at 310. Plaintiffs also obtained the independent psychological evaluation, which was described above, on December 18, 2013. Id.

         Plaintiffs forwarded the independent psychological evaluation results to DCPS at 2:07 p.m. on December 18, 2013. In response, DCPS stated in an email that “another meeting will need to be scheduled to review the evaluation given it was provided on such short notice.” Id. at 299. Plaintiffs, through their attorney, replied that same day, requesting that the IEP meeting be rescheduled. See id. at 298. On the morning of the IEP meeting, Plaintiffs' attorney repeated that request in a voicemail he left with the LEA representative. See id. One hour before the scheduled IEP meeting, he again emailed DCPS to reschedule the meeting because Ms. Hill was also feeling ill. Id.[17] DCPS finally responded nearly six hours after the IEP meeting's start time, stating that the meeting was held on schedule because all necessary members had committed to attend. Id. The participants included Mr. Robinson in his capacity as the LEA representative; one of R.H.'s general education teachers; a social worker; and Ms. Robinson, who attended the meeting to interpret R.H.'s evaluation results and to serve as the team's special education teacher. Id. at 167. DCPS promised to provide Plaintiffs no earlier than January 19, 2014 with both a copy of the IEP and proposed dates for an additional meeting to amend the IEP in accordance with the independent evaluation's results. Id. at 298. According to DCPS, it would not be able to convene another IEP meeting to review the independent evaluation for thirty calendar days. Id.

         On December 20, 2013, Plaintiffs' attorney admonished DCPS for conducting the IEP meeting in Ms. Hill's absence and for failing to include a psychologist to review the independent evaluation at the meeting. Id. at 310. His email asked to reconvene the IEP Team during the first week of January 2014 to amend the IEP, and stated that “[i]f not, we're just going to file” a lawsuit. Id. In response, DCPS explained that the special education office would be closed during the holiday break[18] and confirmed its intent to provide dates for an additional IEP meeting to review the independent evaluation. Id. at 336. However, DCPS later admitted that it never provided dates pursuant to this promise, and a subsequent IEP meeting was never held. Hrg. Tr. at 3. Plaintiffs' attorney replied on December 23, 2013 that he viewed DCPS' response “as a refusal to convene an IEP team meeting with [Ms. Hill's] input by” the current IEP's January 10, 2014 expiration date. AR 336.

         As for the December 2013 IEP itself, it updated R.H.'s annual goals for his academic areas of concern and included a post-secondary transition plan. Id. at 169-81. DCPS first updated R.H.'s mathematics and reading goals from the results of Form B of the WJ-III ACH, which R.H. took on December 18, 2013. Id. at 169. According to those results, R.H.'s math score remained in the “low range, ” showing that he still “lacks some foundational math skills.” Id. Specifically, he obtained (1) a “low” broad math score that correlated to a GE of 4.7; (2) a “very low” calculation score that correlated to a GE of 4.1; (3) a “low” math fluency score that correlated to a GE of 5.2; and (4) an “average” applied problems score that correlated to a GE of 6.6. Id. R.H.'s new mathematics goals were to solve equations and inequalities “with 75% accuracy[, ] as measured by quarterly Paced Interim Assessments and observations, ” and to use properties of real numbers to simplify calculations. Id. at 169-70.

         Regarding R.H.'s reading score, it also remained in the “low range, ” showing the same “basic ability to read and comprehend information” and the same weakness for decoding unfamiliar words and sounds as in the January 2013 IEP. Id. at 170. In particular, R.H. Received (1) a “low” broad reading score that correlated to a GE of 5.2; (2) a “low” letter-word identification score that correlated to a GE of 3.9; and (3) a reading fluency score that correlated to a GE of 6.5. Id.[19] R.H.'s new reading goals were to explicitly cite, and draw inferences from, textual evidence to support his analysis of “what the text says, ” and to analyze how complex characters develop relationships throughout the text and advance the plot. Id.

         DCPS determined R.H.'s new writing score from the results of a WIAT-III from November 6, 2013. Id. at 171. Specifically, these results revealed a “low” written expression SS of 57, which placed R.H.'s writing abilities greater than or equal to 0.2% of other students his age, and a “very low” sentence composition SS of 54, which correlated to a GE of 1.5. Id. The IEP highlighted weaknesses with syntax, grammar, handwriting, and particularly with spelling. Id. R.H.'s goals for this area of concern were to develop “experiences or events using effective techniques, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences, ” and to develop or strengthen writing by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying something different. Id.

         The IEP's post-secondary transition plan collected information from R.H.'s reported interests and the results of his WJ-III ACH and BRIGANCE E-2 assessments, collected on December 18, 2013. Id. at 146, 177. According to R.H., his functional interests included “looking for jobs, driving, [and] making a resume.” Id. at 146. He also expressed interests in attending community college or vocational school, as well as interests in learning “[h]ow to work on cars, how to build stuff, [and] how to work hard.” Id. Regarding R.H.'s assessment results, his scores for both the WJ-III ACH and BRIGANCE E-2 were identical to his respective scores from the January 2013 IEP. See id. at 177. As for R.H.'s vocational goals, his new post- secondary education goal was to research community college programs, for which school officials would provide guidance for one hour during the year. Id. at 178. R.H.'s new employment goal was to research requirements to become a landscaper and review those requirements with his teacher. Id. at 179. His new independent living goal was to acquire a driver's license by studying a driver's education handbook and correctly answering at least 80% of the questions on a practice test. Id. at 180. To assist R.H. with the completion of these goals, DCPS would provide him with access to a computer for four hours per year to research landscaper requirements and driver's education websites. See id. at 179-80.

         Additionally, this IEP retained much of R.H.'s prior testing accommodations and related instructional services. Id. at 173-76. Like the January 2013 IEP, R.H.'s testing accommodations allowed him to receive repetition of classroom and testing directions, to write in his test booklets and use a calculator for assistance, and to take tests in a separate setting for an extended duration. Id. at 175. This IEP also continued prescribing ten hours of weekly specialized instruction for R.H. “outside of the general education setting, ” id. at 174, and it still denied R.H. access to extended school year services, id. at 176. However, the December 2013 IEP deviated from the prior IEP in that it no longer required DCPS to provide R.H. with access to transportation services, id., and that it included as a “special factor” that R.H.'s behavior did not impede his or others' learning. Id. at 168. On May 16, 2014, Ms. Hill filed an administrative due process complaint on behalf of R.H. Id. at 192.

         5. Due Process Hearing

         A due process hearing occurred on August 6 and 8, 2014, id. at 407, during which Plaintiffs both testified and were represented by counsel, id. at 503-54. Plaintiffs also arranged for two special education experts - Ms. Millis and Sharold Smith - to testify on their behalf. Id. at 557-636, 638-48. Additionally, DCPS proffered testimony from Mr. Cox, R.H.'s special education teacher and case manager at Eastern. Id. at 655-736. The relevant portions of each witness' testimony are summarized below.

         a. Ms. Hill's Testimony

         During Ms. Hill's testimony, she reported that R.H. was prohibited from attending Eastern for the first six weeks of the 2012-2013 school year because DCPS claimed that he resided outside of Eastern's district boundary. Id. at 511. She also testified that R.H. did not receive home-instruction from any DCPS teachers during that period. Id. at 512. According to Ms. Hill, R.H. was permitted to return to Eastern only after she spoke to the school board. Id. at 511. Once R.H. returned, DCPS informed Ms. Hill that R.H. would receive a “tag along [to] help[] and assist him with his work.” Id. According to Ms. Hill, no such accommodation ever occurred. Id. at 515-16.

         Referring to the MDT meeting from October 10, 2013, Ms. Hill testified that she had requested counseling services to address R.H.'s mental health problems and that DCPS had refused her request. Id. at 518. She also asked DCPS why it had discontinued R.H.'s speech-language services without a speech evaluation, but DCPS responded that it found no need to continue those services. Id. at 519. Ms. Hill further testified that R.H.'s attendance plan, which was developed during that meeting, “worked out for like the first week[, ] and then when [Plaintiffs] moved[, ] . . . everything changed.” Id. at 520. According to Ms. Hill, DCPS informed R.H. in January 2014 that it would no longer provide him with transportation because he moved closer to Eastern. Id. at 522. As a result, Ms. Hill paid $30 per month for R.H. to access the Metro for the remainder of the 2013-2014 school year. Id.

         Regarding Ms. Hill's participation in R.H.'s IEP meetings, she testified that “[she] wanted to take part and advocate for [R.H.]” Id. at 524. She wanted to discuss R.H.'s transportation problem and mental health difficulties for his January 2013 IEP but, for reasons unknown to the Court, she was unable to attend the meeting. Id. at 514. For R.H.'s December 2013 IEP, Ms. Hill testified that DCPS refused her request to reschedule the meeting for January 10, 2014. Id. at 523-24. Ultimately, Ms. Hill testified that she did not believe that Eastern was meeting R.H.'s individual needs. Id. at 526. She explained that Eastern did not “prepare [R.H.] for the work market” because it lacked any vocational programs. Id. at 525. Eastern instead has an after-school vocational program, but Ms. Hill testified that “you got to get good grades” to attend. Id. Ms. Hill also testified that R.H. would benefit from both independent tutoring and counseling services, and that R.H. would take advantage of such opportunities if they became available to him. Id. at 527-28.

         b. R.H.'s Testimony

         When asked about the 2012-2013 school year, R.H. testified that he could not attend Eastern for “some weeks” in the beginning because DCPS informed R.H. that he “wasn't in the boundary.” Id. at 535. R.H. also submitted that DCPS did not provide him with tutoring or home-instruction during that period. Id. As for the remainder of that school year, R.H. testified that he used the Metro to arrive at school, as well as a “free bus[, ] . . . but [he was] not always up to make the free bus.” Id. at 536. R.H. explained that Ms. Hill, “and sometimes the school, ” provided him with access to the Metro throughout that year, but his attendance suffered because that access was “not always” provided. Id. R.H. further testified that he was only enrolled in general education classes that school year and received no specialized instruction from an inclusion teacher within those classes. Id. at 537.

         When asked about his classes during the 2013-2014 school year, R.H. testified that he was enrolled in at least one special education course. Id. at 540. Moreover, R.H. testified that an inclusion teacher assisted him with Algebra I for two or three class periods each week, but this teacher assisted the entire class. Id. at 540, 548. R.H.'s major issues during that school year involved his school uniform and school transportation. Id. at 538. Regarding R.H.'s uniform, he explained that “[s]ometimes [it] wasn't clean, [and] sometimes [he] didn't have the right color to wear.” Id. R.H. also explained that he could not afford to pay for public transportation, so DCPS sometimes gave him bus tokens at the beginning of the school year. Id. at 538-39. However, according to R.H., DCPS discontinued his transportation service “a little bit before Christmas break, ” so Ms. Hill provided him with transportation for the remainder of the school year. Id. at 539.

         During R.H.'s testimony, he also discussed his vocational needs. First, he testified that Eastern did not provide any vocational programs during either school year other than an after-school program. Id. at 541. He also testified that DCPS never helped him research community college or vocational programs, interview mechanics or landscapers regarding their work requirements, or make progress in acquiring a driver's license. Id. at 541-42. In addition, R.H. stated that DCPS never helped him develop independent-living skills, such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Id. at 542. R.H. clarified during cross-examination that DCPS did provide him with a laundry service during the 2013-2014 school year, which he used to clean his uniform. Id. at 549-50. When asked about his overall educational needs, R.H. testified that Eastern did not teach him “anything academically” or help him “to get a job and start driving.” Id. at 542- 43. By contrast, R.H. believed that New Beginnings would be an appropriate placement for him because it has “the skills you need to survive.” Id. at 544.

         c. Sharold ...


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