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Olu-Cole v. E.L. Haynes Public Charter School

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 25, 2019

VELMA OLU-COLE, Parent and next friend of M.K. Plaintiff,
v.
E.L. HAYNES PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          TREVOR N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.

         Velma Olu-Cole sued the E.L. Haynes Public Charter School (“Haynes”) on behalf of her minor son, M.K. She alleges that Haynes violated M.K.'s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). She seeks compensatory education for M.K. and attorneys' fees for litigating an administrative due process claim on his behalf.

         Haynes moved to dismiss these claims, arguing in the alternative that it should be granted summary judgment. Ms. Olu-Cole cross-moved for partial summary judgment. After assessing the parties' arguments, Magistrate Judge Harvey recommended that Haynes's motion be denied and Ms. Olu-Cole's cross-motion be granted. The Court agrees and, for the reasons explained below, adopts the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation in full.

         I.

         The Report and Recommendation comprehensively describes the background and history of this case. See R. & R. at 2-7, ECF No. 28. To summarize, M.K. is a high school student at Haynes. Id. at 2. He has a disability, “Emotional Disturbance, ” that the IDEA covers. Id. Because of this, Haynes must develop and implement an individualized educational program to help M.K. meet his academic needs. Id.

         M.K. has a history of behavioral problems. See Hearing Officer Determination, ECF No. 19-1 at 60. In 2017, he attacked another student, repeatedly punching the student in the face. Id. at 62. The victim was “left with a concussion and suffered memory loss.” Id. After the fight, Haynes suspended M.K. for 45 days. R. & R. at 3. The school investigated the incident and found that his conduct was a manifestation of his disability. Id.

         Haynes then sought to remove M.K. and have him placed in a “therapeutic, nonpublic, special education day school.” Id. at 4. Because Ms. Olu-Cole did not consent, the school submitted its request to the District of Columbia's Office of the State Superintendent of Education (the “Superintendent's Office”). Id. at 3. The Superintendent's Office refused to require a change of school. Id. at 4. It found that “with a robust [individualized educational program], supported by other appropriate interventions, [Haynes] can successfully serve students with similar circumstances.” Id.

         Still, Haynes continued to seek M.K.'s removal. It filed an administrative due process complaint with the Superintendent's Office. ECF No. 19-1 at 9-13. The school argued that M.K.'s “verbally and physically aggressive behavior pose a significant safety risk to others” and to himself. Id. at 12. It therefore requested that the Superintendent's Office require Ms. Olu-Cole to consent to a change in M.K.'s school placement. Id.

         While this administrative due process claim was pending, Ms. Olu-Cole filed her case here. See Compl., ECF No. 1. She noted in her complaint that “Haynes is refusing to allow M.K. to attend classes” in violation of IDEA's “stay put provision.” Id. at 1. This provision requires that, during any due process proceedings, a child “shall remain in [his] then-current educational placement.” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(j). Ms. Olu-Cole argued that Haynes violated the stay-put provision by keeping M.K. out of school past his 45-day suspension. Compl. 12. She sought a Temporary Restraining Order and a Preliminary Injunction to allow him to return to school. Compl. 12.

         After hearing oral arguments, the Court denied these requests for relief. See Court's February 2, 2018 Minute Order; Olu-Cole v. E.L. Haynes Pub. Charter Sch., 292 F.Supp.3d 413 (D.D.C.), appeal filed, No. 18-7028 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 26, 2018). But Haynes then changed course. It agreed to allow M.K. to return to school and moved to withdraw its administrative complaint without prejudice. ECF No. 19-1 at 15, 17.

         Ms. Olu-Cole opposed the motion. See ECF No. 19-1 at 20. She argued that the school's complaint should be dismissed with prejudice so that the dismissal would have preclusive effect. Id. Haynes consented. Id. So, based on the parties' agreement, the Superintendent's Office's Hearing Officer dismissed the administrative due process complaint with prejudice. Id. at 22.

         Ms. Olu-Cole then filed her own due process complaint with the Hearing Officer. See id. at 35-40. She argued that the measures Haynes had taken to address M.K.'s disability were inadequate, and that the school had therefore denied M.K. the “free appropriate public education” the IDEA requires. Id. at 38-39. She sought compensatory education “to remedy the denial(s) of [a free appropriate public education] up to, but excluding, the denial . . . stemming from the violation of M.K.'s stay-put rights after January 26[, 2018].” Id. at 39 (emphasis in original).

         The Hearing Officer found that M.K. was entitled to compensatory education. Id. at 71. He ordered Haynes to provide M.K. “fifty hours of individual tutoring” and “twenty hours of counseling.” Id.

         Still pending here are Ms. Olu-Cole's claim for “compensatory education for any violations of [the IDEA's] stay put [provision]” and her request for attorneys' fees. Am. Compl. 13-15, ECF. No. 15. Haynes seeks dismissal of these claims. See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (“Def.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 19. The school argues that the compensatory education request is now moot because of the Hearing Officer's decision. Id. at 1. Haynes also suggests that the Court should not permit Ms. Olu-Cole to seek attorneys' fees. Id. It asserts that, because the ...


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