United States District Court, District of Columbia
P. MEHTA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Davette Butler brings this matter under the Individuals with
Disabilities Act after a Hearing Officer declined to award
her minor son, D.B., any compensatory education even though
he had found that the District of Columbia Public Schools
(“DCPS”) denied him a “free appropriate
public education, ” or “FAPE, ” for the
vast majority of the 2014-2015 and 2015- 2016 school years.
Now before the court are the parties' cross-motions for
summary judgment. Plaintiff asserts that the Hearing Officer
should have ordered compensatory education and asks this
court to make that award. Defendant District of Columbia
concedes that an award of compensatory education is
appropriate, but asks that the matter be remanded for the
Hearing Officer to determine the appropriate compensatory
education award, or alternatively, if this court decides to
make an award itself, that it grant something less than
Plaintiff requests. Accordingly, the only question presented
is whether this court or the Hearing Officer should award
compensatory education to Plaintiff.
reasons stated below, the court remands this matter to the
Hearing Officer to determine an appropriate compensatory
has suffered from blindness and learning disabilities since
birth. Admin. R., ECF No. 8 [hereinafter A.R.], at 44-55. In
July 2014, DCPS developed an individualized education program
(“IEP”) for D.B. for the 2014-2015 school year,
which designated his school placement as Woodrow Wilson High
School. Id. at 92-93. D.B. started at Wilson in
August, but his school year was cut short after he was
allegedly sexually assaulted in a school bathroom on
September 8, 2014. Id. at 94-95, 97-101, 108-09,
281-82, 285-87. Thereafter, he did not return to school.
Id. at 97-101, 108-09, 113-14, 285, 293. Beginning
in October 2014, Plaintiff requested a change in her
son's school placement, but DCPS did not carry out the
request until June 2015, when it placed D.B. at H.D. Woodson
High School. Id. at 97, 113-14, 143. Citing her
concern that Woodson could not provide D.B. the services that
he needed, Plaintiff did not, however, enroll D.B. at
Woodson, and he never attended school there. Id. at
113, 144, 190-91.
December 2015, Plaintiff filed a due process complaint under
the IDEA on behalf of D.B., and amended it in January 2016.
Id. at 147-50, 189-93. Her complaint alleged that
DCPS had denied her son a FAPE for the 2014-2015 and
2015-2016 school years. Id. at 190-91. Two months
later, after holding an evidentiary hearing, a Hearing
Officer agreed with Plaintiff, in part. He determined that
DCPS had denied D.B. a FAPE by (1) failing to convene
D.B.'s entire IEP team to review his school placement
following the alleged assault in September 2014; and (2)
failing to revise D.B.'s IEP for the 2015-2016 school
year. Id. at 20-21. The Hearing Officer did not,
however, award D.B. compensatory education. He explained
that, although Plaintiff's expert had proposed a
compensatory education award of 50-75 hours of tutoring, in
addition to other services, for each month of educational
services D.B. had missed since he stopped attending school,
the evidence did not establish “what position [D.B.]
would now occupy if he had attended school after September 8,
2014 or the type and amount of services he would need to
regain that position.” Id. at 24-25, 401-03.
The Hearing Officer proceeded to reject Plaintiff's
expert's testimony as “speculative” and
insufficient “to craft an appropriate, specific fact
based, compensatory education remedy.” Id. at
25-26. He denied the request for compensatory education
“without prejudice.” Id.
then filed this action, challenging the Hearing Officer's
refusal to award compensatory education. Plaintiff asks the
court to enter an award of compensatory education based on
the expert testimony presented at the administrative hearing.
See Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 9
[hereinafter Pl.'s Mot.], at 12-15. Alternatively,
Plaintiff requests an order directing the District to develop
an appropriate compensatory education plan or an order
requiring the District to fund an independent compensatory
education evaluation. Id. at 15-18. Defendant, for
its part, asks the court to remand the matter so the Hearing
Officer can conduct a fact-specific inquiry to determine the
appropriate compensatory education award. Def.'s
Cross-Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 10 [hereinafter Def.'s
Mot.], at 19. Alternatively, if the court decides to award
compensatory education, Defendant asks the court to reject
Plaintiff's proposal, arguing that D.B. is not entitled
to the amount Plaintiff requests. Id. at 19-20.
IDEA mandates that States, including the District of
Columbia, which receive federal educational assistance
provide a “free appropriate public education”
(“FAPE”) to all children with disabilities
between the ages of 3 and 21. 20 U.S.C. §§
1400(d)(1)(A), 1412(a)(1)(A). As part of the requirement to
provide a FAPE, school districts must work with parents to
develop an IEP for each child with a disability and then
select a school placement to implement the IEP. Id.
§§ 1412(a)(4), 1414(d)(1)(B), 1414(e). Under the
IDEA, parents may challenge a school district's decisions
regarding educational services by filing a due process
complaint and requesting an administrative due process
hearing. Id. § 1415(b)(6), 1415(f). If a
hearing officer concludes that the school district denied a
student a FAPE, he has “broad discretion to fashion an
appropriate remedy, ” which may include compensatory
education. See B.D. v. District of Columbia, 817
F.3d 792, 800 (D.C. Cir. 2016). Compensatory education
consists of prospective educational services designed to
“compensate for a past deficient program.”
Reid ex rel. Reid v. District of Columbia, 401 F.3d
516, 522 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted).
A final award relies on “individualized assessments,
” requires a “fact-specific” inquiry, and
must be “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.” Id. at 524.
IDEA grants a parent dissatisfied with the outcome of a due
process hearing the right to appeal to a federal district
court. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A). A reviewing court must
consider the entire administrative record and, should either
party request it, any additional evidence. Id.
§ 1415(i)(2)(C). The party challenging the hearing
officer's ruling bears the burden of “persuading
the court that the hearing officer was wrong.”
Kerkam v. McKenzie, 862 F.2d 884, 887 (D.C. Cir.
1988). Using a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard, the
court may “grant such relief as the court determines is
appropriate, ” including an award of compensatory
education. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(C); B.D., 817
F.3d at 797-98.
the reviewing court is required to base its decision
“on the preponderance of the evidence” does not,
however, authorize unfettered de novo review. See Bd. of
Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist., Westchester
Cty. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 206 (1982) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Instead, a 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
which [it] review[s].” Id. With that said, the
fact that a court may hear additional evidence at a
party's request, coupled with the
preponderance-of-the-evidence standard, “plainly
suggest[s]” that a hearing officer's determination
receives less deference than is typical in administrative
proceedings. Kerkam, 862 F.2d at 887. And, 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) (internal quotation marks omitted).
as here, neither party presents additional evidence to the
district court, a motion for summary judgment operates as a
motion for judgment based on the evidence in the record.
S.S. ex rel. Shank v. Howard Rd. Acad., 585
F.Supp.2d 56, 64 (D.D.C. 2008). If the administrative record
lacks “pertinent findings” and neither party
enters additional evidence, then the “court may
determine that the appropriate relief is a remand to the
hearing officer for further proceedings.”
Reid, 401 F.3d at 526 (internal quotation marks
matter, the parties' sole disagreement is whether the
court should enter a compensatory education award for D.B.
(Plaintiff's position) or whether the matter should be
remanded to the Hearing Officer to take additional ...