United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. FRIEDRICH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides a right
to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for eligible
children with disabilities. A FAPE entitles children with
disabilities to a uniquely tailored individualized education
program. The parents of Washington, D.C. student I.W. filed
this lawsuit alleging that the District of Columbia Public
Schools proposed an inappropriate individualized education
program for I.W. and, as a result, denied him a FAPE. Before
the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court will remand
the case to the hearing officer for further proceedings.
currently attends a private school in the District of
Columbia (D.C), but from 2009-2013, he attended his
neighborhood D.C. public school. In 2012, I.W.'s parents
obtained a private psychoeducational evaluation of I.W.
because of his academic challenges. That evaluation revealed
that I.W. had a written expression disorder and recommended
that he receive certain services and tutoring. In December
2012, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) found I.W. eligible for
special education services and proposed an Individualized
Education Program (IEP). The IEP recommended one hour per
week of specialized instruction outside of the general
education setting and 30 minutes per week inside the general
education setting. DCPS later amended I.W.'s IEP to
recommend 2 hours per month of occupational therapy services
in the general education setting.
with the IEP, however, I.W. continued to struggle
academically. I.W.'s parents therefore enrolled him in a
private school that specializes in educating students with
dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning disabilities for the
2013-2014 school year. I.W.'s private school provides
full-time special education services and integrated speech
and language and occupational therapy services in the
the 2015-2016 school year, I.W.'s parents initiated the
special education eligibility process through DCPS and
obtained another private psychological assessment of I.W.
That assessment placed I.W. in the high-average range for
verbal comprehension, the average range for visual spatial
index, fluid reasoning, and working memory, and the
low-average range for processing speed. A.R. 224-27. The
assessment also diagnosed I.W. with developmental dyslexia, a
written expression disorder, and a mathematics disorder.
an October 26, 2015 initial screening meeting, the parties
agreed that DCPS would conduct an occupational therapy
evaluation of I.W. and review his psychological assessment.
Thereafter, a DCPS occupational therapist evaluated I.W. and
concluded, among other things, that it is difficult for I.W.
to integrate visual information with motor output, that he
struggles to regulate his arousal level, and that handwriting
is an area of weakness. Id. 263-69. The DCPS
psychologist who reviewed I.W.'s independent
psychological assessment noted that I.W. needs redirection
from teachers to stay on task and complete assignments.
Id. 260. The DCPS psychologist also concluded that
I.W. meets the criteria for a specific learning disability
and that he would benefit from various accommodations,
including repeated instructions and follow-up, extended time,
shortened assignments, and attentional breaks. Id.
team found I.W. eligible for special education services as a
student with specific learning disabilities in reading,
writing, and math. Although I.W.'s parents and DCPS
agreed on I.W.'s goals, they disagreed about what
services could help I.W. make progress on those goals. DCPS
proposed an IEP that includes 10 hours per week of
specialized instruction in the general education setting and
the following special instruction outside of the general
education setting: 2.5 hours per week of specialized written
expression instruction, 2.5 hours per week of specialized
instruction in reading, and 2.5 hours per week of specialized
instruction in math. Id. 580-81. The proposed IEP
also includes four hours per month of occupational therapy in
the general education setting and two hours per month outside
of the general education setting. Id. I.W.'s
parents, however, asserted that I.W. needs more service hours
and a more intensive special education program to make
progress on his goals.
spring 2016, I.W.'s parents hired an educational
consultant to analyze whether DCPS's proposed educational
program at the public school and I.W.'s current placement
at the private school were appropriate. Based on the
consultant's review, which included observing I.W. at the
private school, the consultant concluded that the proposed
educational program at the public school would not be
appropriate for I.W. but that his private school could
continue to provide him with the services he needs.
August 2016, 1.W.'s parents notified DCPS that I.W. would
continue to attend his private school for the 2016-2017
school year because DCPS failed to offer him a FAPE. When
DCPS refused to fund his private school tuition, I.W.'s
parents requested a due process hearing to challenge
DCPS's proposed educational program and placement.
the hearing, I.W.'s parents argued that DCPS denied I.W.
a FAPE in four ways: (1) by failing to propose an appropriate
IEP for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years; (2) by
failing to propose an appropriate placement for the 2015-2016
and 2016-2017 school years; (3) by failing to timely
determine I.W.'s eligibility for special education
services by December 2015; and (4) by failing to timely
develop I.W.'s IEP for the 2015-2016 school year by
December 2015. Id. 576-78. They also argued that
DCPS's proposed educational program and placement for
I.W. are flawed because I.W. needs more service hours than
the public school can provide. They therefore requested that
DCPS place I.W. in his private school, pay his private school
tuition for the 2016-2017 school year, and reimburse them for
all tuition and related expenses associated with his
attendance at the private school during the 2015-2016 school
year. The hearing officer concluded that DCPS did not deny
I.W. a FAPE and denied the requested relief. Id.
November 30, 2016, the plaintiffs filed this action
challenging the hearing officer's
determination. Compl., Dkt. 1. In their motion,
plaintiffs argue that the hearing officer committed the
following errors: first, the hearing officer misapplied the
relevant burden of proof provisions; second, the hearing
officer misapplied the FAPE standard; third, the hearing
officer incorrectly assessed the credibility of witnesses;
fourth, the hearing officer failed to address contradictions
in DCPS's case; and fifth, the hearing officer applied
the wrong legal standard to the plaintiffs' claim for
tuition reimbursement. See Pl's Mot., Dkt. 14 at
2. Because the Court concludes that the hearing officer
misapplied the FAPE standard, it does not resolve the
plaintiffs' other challenges here.
judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "On cross-motions for summary
judgment, each party carries its own burden to demonstrate
that there are no disputed material facts and it is entitled