United States District Court, District of Columbia
P. Mehta United States District Judge.
Luwan Garris and her minor daughter, Plaintiff D.G, filed
this matter challenging an administrative Hearing
Officer's determination that Plaintiffs had failed to
show that Defendant District of Columbia had violated the
Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This court
referred the case to a magistrate judge for case management
and to prepare a Report and Recommendation ("R&R").
See Order of Aug. 14, 2015. Magistrate Judge Kay was
randomly assigned. Judge Kay issued his R&R on June 1, 2016,
ECF No. 17 [hereinafter R&R], and Plaintiffs thereafter filed
their objections, ECF No. 18 [hereinafter Pis.' Obj.].
court has reviewed de novo Judge Kay's R&R, and
the objections thereto, as well as the record in this matter,
as required under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73(b)(3).
For the reasons explained below, this court will accept the
disposition recommended by the R&R and grant summary judgment
in favor of Defendant.
court presumes the parties' familiarity with the facts
and procedural history of the case and therefore will
dispense with repeating them here, except as needed.
Plaintiffs asserted before the Hearing Officer that Defendant
had violated the IDEA in three respects. First, Plaintiffs
claimed that D.G.'s 2014 Individualized Education Plan
("IEP") was inadequate because it did not provide
her with a sufficient number of hours of specialized
instruction to address her educational needs.
SeeCompl, ECF No. 1; Id., Ex. A, April 28,
2015 Hearing Officer Determination, ECF No. 1-1 [hereinafter
Hr'g Decision], at 13-14. Second, they argued that
Defendant failed to offer D.G. an appropriate transition
plan-that is, apian designed to facilitate a child's
movement from school to post-school activities-because
Defendant did not interview D.G. when developing the plan.
Id. at 14-15. And, third, Plaintiffs asserted that
Defendant had not, as required by IDEA, done enough to
address D.G.'s truancy problems. Id. 16-18.
Magistrate Judge Kay recommended upholding the Hearing
Officer's rejection of each of Plaintiffs' three
claims and granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant.
R&R at 17, 21, 25. Plaintiffs have filed objections regarding
each of their claims, to which the court now turns.
Adequacy of the December 2014 IEP
Plaintiffs' first claim-that D.G.'s IEP did not
provide her with a sufficient number of hours of specialized
instruction-Plaintiffs object that "[t]he Hearing
Officer and the [R&R] both failed to account for substantial
evidence that D.G.'s IEP was inappropriate and the [R&R]
errs in finding that offering additional hours of specialized
instruction 'would have made no difference, ' because
of her truancy." Pis.' Obj. at 2. They further argue
that "[e]vidence presented at the [administrative]
Hearing demonstrated that D.G.'s truancy was
substantially related to the Defendant's failure to offer
an appropriate program and likely would have improved with
additional support." Id. The court disagrees
with Plaintiffs' objections.
administrative hearing, Plaintiffs offered the testimony of
Rasheed Bonner, a school psychologist and expert in the
development of IEP sand behavioral intervention plans, who
testified that, in his opinion, and in contrast with her 2014
IEP, D.G. should receive approximately 15 hours per week of
specialized instruction outside of the classroom.
See Administrative Record, Ex. 19, April 23, 2014,
Hr'g Tr., ECF No. 16-13 [hereinafter April 23, 2014,
Hr'g Tr.], at 80-81. Bonner based his opinion upon his
review of various records, including D.G.'s 2014
psychological evaluation. Mat 54. Ultimately, the Hearing
Officer declined to follow Bonner's recommendation and
instead affirmed the provisions of the school's 2014 IEP,
which called for D.G. to receive four hours per week of
specialized instruction outside of the general education
setting, two hours per week of specialized instruction in
reading inside of the general education setting, three hours
per week of specialized instruction in mathematics inside of
the general education setting, and speech and language
therapy for fifteen minutes per month. Hr'g Decision at
7. Plaintiffs criticize the Hearing Officer for not giving
Bonner's testimony sufficient weight. See
PL's Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 9, at 12.
challenging a hearing officer's ruling must "at
least take on the burden of persuading the court that the
hearing officer was wrong." Kerkam v. McKenzie,
862 F.2d 884, 887 (D.C. Cir. 1989). The court must give
"due weight" to the hearing officer's decision
and "may not substitute its own notions of sound
educational policy for those of the school authorities."
Turner v. District of Columbia, 952 F.Supp.2d 31,
35-36 (D.D.C. 2013) (citations and internal quotations
omitted). On the other hand, a decision "without ...
reasoned and specific findings deserves little
deference." Kerkam v. Superintendent, D.C. Pub.
Schs., 931 F.2d 84, 87 (D.C.Cir. 1991) (citations and
internal quotations omitted).
the court finds that Plaintiffs have not carried their
burden. Although the Hearing Officer could have provided a
more fulsome explanation for why he ultimately rejected
Bonner's recommendation, he certainly acknowledged it
when evaluating the appropriateness of the 2014 IEP.
See Hr'g Decision at 13 (noting that Plaintiffs
had argued that "the Student requires at least 15 hours
of instruction outside of general education"). The
Hearing Officer instead gave weight to other record evidence,
which D.G.'s mother had confirmed, demonstrating that
D.G. "had made good progress" at another school
with fewer than 15 hours of specialized instruction.
Id. at 13-14. He also relied on teacher reports in
the record showing that D.G. had performed well in her
general education classes. Id. at 14.
take issue with the Hearing Officer's conclusion and his
rationale, arguing that D.G.'s 2014 IEP "was not
reasonably calculated to produce meaningful education
benefit, because D.G. had not shown progress under a similar
IEP at a previous school, it was unsupported by D.G.'s
most recent evaluation, and it failed to address the role of
insufficient educational support in D.G. 's
truancy." Pis.' Obj. at 3. At bottom, however, these
objections are about how the Hearing Officer weighed the
evidence and not that he failed to consider the evidence in
the first place. He clearly did. As noted, the Hearing
Officer considered D.G.'s past educational records and
performance. SeeHr'g Decision at 13-14. That
Plaintiffs draw a different conclusion from that evidence
does not make the Hearing Officer's alternative
the Hearing Officer weighed D.G.'s most recent
psychological evaluation and discounted that evidence because
"there [was] evidence that the Student is resistant to
standardized testing, suggesting the Student's actual
academic levels may be higher than reported by
psychologists." Id. at 14. Plaintiffs dispute
that view of the psychological evidence, see
Pis.' Obj.at 4, but ...