United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION [DKT. # 15, 17]
RICHARD J. LEON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Clinton Pavelko and Jean Holman ("plaintiffs"), on
behalf of their minor child H.P., have filed this suit under
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.
Plaintiffs seek judicial review of certain conclusions
contained within a final administrative decision of the D.C.
Office of the State Superintendent of Education. See
generally Compl. [Dkt. # 1]. Specifically, plaintiffs
allege that the final administrative decision by the
Independent Hearing Officer ("IHO") failed to
recognize numerous IDEA violations that the District of
Columbia ("defendant" or "the District")
committed in the course of evaluating and recommending the
appropriate special educational services and placement for
September 13, 2016, the case was referred to Magistrate Judge
Deborah A. Robinson for full case management. See
9/13/2016 Minute Entry. Before Magistrate Judge Robinson, the
parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
See Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. [Dkt. # 15]; D.C.'s
Opp'n to Pls.' Mot. Summ. J. & Cross-Mot. Summ.
J. [Dkt. #17]. Currently pending before this Court is
Magistrate Judge Robinson's December 18, 2017 Report and
Recommendation ("R&R") for the above-captioned
case. See generally R&R [Dkt. # 23]. In that
R&R, Magistrate Judge Robinson recommends that the Court
deny plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and grant
defendant's motion for summary judgment.
to Local Civil Rule 72.3(b), the parties were allowed 14 days
to file objections to the recommendations made by Magistrate
Judge Robinson. Not surprisingly, plaintiffs objected to
Magistrate Judge Robinson's R&R. See
Pls.' Objection to R&R ("Pls.' Obj.")
[Dkt. # 24]. When a party objects to a magistrate judge's
recommended disposition, the Court reviews de novo
those portions of the recommendation to which an objection is
made. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); LCvR 72.3(c). The Court may
"accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the
findings and recommendations of the magistrate judge."
LCvR 72.3(c). Upon consideration of Magistrate Judge
Robinson's R&R, the parties' briefing, and the
applicable case law and legal standards, the Court hereby
ADOPTS Magistrate Judge Robinson's recommendations,
DENIES plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, and
GRANTS defendant's motion for summary judgment for the
reasons contained with the R&R and elaborated upon below.
factual background of this case is ably summarized by
Magistrate Judge Robinson in her report, see R&R
at 3-5, and I need not re-tread that ground here. Suffice it
to say that, from summer 2014 through early spring of 2015,
plaintiffs' child, II.P., was repeatedly evaluated by
D.C. Public Schools ("DCPS") and non-DCPS providers
to determine H.P.'s eligibility for special education and
related services. See A.R. at 8-11 [Dkt. # 11-1].
Ultimately, the evaluating specialists diagnosed H.P. as
having Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
("ADHD") and as meeting the criteria for an Autism
Spectrum Disorder ("ASD") disability. See
Id. One evaluator concluded that H.P. would benefit from
"placement in a therapeutic school with a low
student-to-teacher ratio" and from receipt of "ABA
services to help foster his social, emotional and
communication skills." Id. at 9. Another
recommended that H.P. repeat preschool in a "program
designed for children with an ASD diagnosis, to include a
language enriched program" that was "highly
structured" and would provide H.P. education in both
"small group and individualized" settings.
Id. at 9-10.
on that information, a DCPS special education eligibility
team determined that H.P. qualified for special education
under the IDEA-a finding to which plaintiff Holman consented.
Id. at 10. On April 21, 2015, DCPS convened an
Individualized Education Program ("IE.P") meeting
in order to formulate and propose an IEP for H.P.
Id. Unbeknownst to those DCPS officials, however,
plaintiffs had enrolled H.P. at the Auburn School-a private
special education day school-the day before. Id. At
the IEP meeting, DCPS proposed an IEP for H.P. that contained
various goals and specifications for specialized support and
instruction, including: twenty hours per week of specialized
instruction outside general education, which would occur in
the Community and Education Support ("CES")
classroom; four hours per week of specialized instruction in
general education, during which H.P. would be accompanied by
a paraprofessional; and two hours per month, each, of
Speech-Language Pathology, Occupational Therapy, and
Behavioral Support Services outside of general education.
Id. at 10-11. The DCPS team proposed a CES classroom
at Takoma Education Campus ("Takoma") as the
location of the services. Id. at 11.
one week after the April 21, 2015 IEP and placement proposal,
plaintiff Holman and II.P.'s grandmother visited the
proposed CES classroom at Takoma. Id. After
observing the classroom, they were not satisfied that the
placement was appropriate for H.P. See Id.
(recounting plaintiffs' concerns that the CES program was
"too easy" for H.P. and that other students in the
program were nonverbal). Although DCPS responded to the
concerns raised by plaintiffs and H.P.'s grandmother,
"no agreement was reached" For H.P. to enroll at
Takoma. Id. at 12. Instead, plaintiffs chose to keep
H.P. enrolled at the Auburn School, where he had been
progressing well. Id. at 11-12.
after additional evaluations of H.P., a second visit to the
CES classroom at Takoma, and more back-and-forth between DCPS
and plaintiffs, an updated IEP was formulated for H.P. in
late January 2016. See Id. at 12-14. Plaintiffs,
however, continued to object to DCPS's revised proposal
for H.P. Id. at 15. They filed a due process
complaint against DCPS in the D.C. Office of the State
Superintendent of Education arguing, among other things, that
H.P. had been denied his right to a free and appropriate
public education ("FAPE") under the IDEA and that
the April 2015 and January 2016 proposed IEPs were
unsatisfactory. Id. at 4, 6-7. In his 32-page
determination, the IHO assigned to H.P.'s case agreed
with plaintiffs that various shortcomings in the January 2016
IEP process violated the IDEA. See Id. at 29-32. To
remedy those violations, the II10 ordered DCPS to reimburse
plaintiffs for the costs associated with H.P.'s
attendance at the Auburn School from January 29, 2016 through
the end of the 2015-2016 school year. Id. at 34. The
IHO rejected plaintiffs' claims regarding the April 2015
IEP, however, as well as their claim that H.P. had been
denied a FAPE from April 2015 through late-January 2016.
Id. at 16-29. Those latter conclusions were upheld
by Magistrate Judge Robinson in her R&R, to which
plaintiffs now object.
their suit, plaintiffs seek judicial review of the IHO's
administrative decision. In such a case, as Magistrate Judge
Robinson noted, plaintiffs have the burden of proving that
the "hearing officer was wrong." Re id ex rel.
Reid v. District of Columbia, 401 F.3d 516, 521 (D.C.
Cir. 2005). Although the IDEA requires reviewing courts to
afford "less deference than is conventional in
administrative proceedings, " id. (internal
quotation mark omitted), courts are not to "substitute
their own notions of sound educational policy for those of
the school authorities which they review, " Bd. of
Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458
U.S. 176, 206 (1982). With that admonition in mind,
"[c]ourts sitting on an IDEA appeal" must
"give due weight to the administrative proceedings and
afford some deference to the expertise of the hearing officer
and school officials responsible for the child's
education." Gill v. District of Columbia,
.7'51 F.Supp.2d 104, 108-09 (D.D.C. 2010) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
plaintiffs take issue with three primary conclusions of the
R&R. Mindful of the standard of review cited above, I
address-and reject-each of plaintiffs' contentions.
plaintiffs argue that Magistrate Judge Robinson erred in
affirming the IHO's determination that H.P.'s parents
were granted meaningful participation in the April 2015
educational placement decision. See Pls.' Obj.
5-6. I disagree. Plaintiffs are certainly correct that
various procedural safeguards of the IDEA require school
officials to notify and work with parents when crafting or
modifying an educational placement. See, e.g., Honig v.
Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 311-12 (1988); Lofton v. District
of Columbia, 7 F.Supp.3d 117, 123 n.6 (D.D.C. 2013).
They are incorrect, however, that the IHO erred in
determining that DCPS met those procedural requirements. The
evidence before the IHO was that plaintiffs and H.P.'s
grandmother: 1) received a DCPS-funded, independent
evaluation of H.P. upon objecting to the original DCPS
evaluation; 2) were present at and participated in the April
21, 2015 IEP meeting; 3) were granted access to FI.P.'s
prospective classroom and teachers at Takoma; and 4) received
responses from DCPS about their concerns with the proposed
IEP and CES classroom. See A..R. at 8-12, 19-20;
see also R&R 11. Given all that, plaintiffs have
not met their burden to show that the IHO was wrong to
conclude that plaintiffs were "afforded meaningful
participation in the development of the April 21, 2015 IEP
and educational placement." A.R. at 19. In short,
plaintiffs' disagreement with the output of the
IEP process does not mean that they were denied the chance to
provide meaningful input into that process. Cf.
Hawkins v. District of Columbia, 692 F.Supp.2d 81, 84
(D.D.C. 2010) (parents' right to participate in "the
formation of their child's IEP does not constitute a veto
power over the IEP team's decisions (internal quotation
plaintiffs object to the R&R's approval of the
IIIO's determination that the April 21, 2015 IEP met the
substantive requirements of the IDEA. See Pls.'
Obj. 11-14. As Magistrate Judge Robinson correctly explains,
the IEP is the "centerpiece of the statute's
education delivery system for disabled children"-and
thus of the District's obligation to provide a free
appropriate public education for qualifying disabled
children. Endrew F. ex rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas Cly.
Sch. Dist. RE-1,137 S.Ct. 988, 994 (2017) (internal
quotation marks omitted). By statute, the IEP must include an
assessment of the student's current levels of academic
and functional performance; a description of how the
child's disability affects the child's involvement
and progress in the educational curriculum; measurable annual
goals for the child's academic and functional progress;
and an outline of the specially designed instruction and
support services necessary to allow the child to achieve the
annual goals. See, e.g., Id. (quoting 20 U.S.G.
§ 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(I)-(IV)). While the IDEA requires an
individualized assessment of each child's "unique
needs, " it also mandates "that children with
disabilities receive education in the regular classroom
'whenever possible.'" Id. at 994, 999
(quoting Rowley, 458 U.S. at 181, 202). Taken