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K.W. v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 7, 2019

K.W., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
District of Columbia, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Rosemary M. Collyer, United States District Judge.

         This case culminates several years of administrative interactions and litigation between Plaintiffs, the parents of eighth-grade student K.W., and Defendant District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). At issue is K.W.'s Individualized Education Program, his school placement, and the process by which K.W. and his parents can vindicate his right to a free and appropriate public education, guaranteed to him by federal law, which DCPS appears to ignore. No. parents should be required to sue DCPS each and every school year to force the school system to comply with its obligations under federal law. The Complaint allegations make out a shocking lack of compliance by DCPS.

         DCPS has moved for partial dismissal of the Complaint, which K.W.'s parents oppose. Additionally, Plaintiffs seek immediate injunctive relief pursuant to the “stay-put” provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Defendants oppose such relief. The Court will deny the motion to dismiss and grant injunctive relief.

         I. FACTS

         K.W. is a 13-year old, eighth-grade student diagnosed with a Specific Learning Disability. He has also been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and fine motor and motor-planning disorders that cause him to reverse letters, fail to differentiate accurately between left and right, and be unable to imitate multi-step motor patterns and directions. K.W. qualifies as a child needing special education services and is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq; see id § 1415(a). K.W. attended pre-kindergarten through third grade at Brent Elementary Public School, part of DCPS. At Brent, K.W.'s parents expressed concern about his academic progress and questioned the level of special education services being provided. They also supplemented DCPS services at their own expense, with private interventions and tutoring at the direction of Brent Elementary staff.

         At the end of his third-grade year in the spring of 2014, K.W.'s parents were dissatisfied with the Individualized Education Program (IEP) proposed for K.W. for the 2014-15 school year. Instead, they unilaterally placed K.W. at the Lab School of Washington, a private, special education school for students with significant learning disabilities. K.W. attended the Lab School during the 2014-15 academic year, where he received over 30 hours of specialized instruction per week across all content areas. Midway though the school year, the Lab School additionally began to provide K.W. with a double period of reading, utilizing intensive, research-based methodologies to address his disabilities.

         On March 17, 2015, K.W.'s parents filed a due process complaint challenging the appropriateness of the DCPS-proposed IEP and educational (school) placement for K.W. for the 2014-15 school year. On June 8, 2015, Independent Hearing Officer Peter Vaden issued a Hearing Officer Determination (HOD) in which he found that the proposed 2014-15 IEP denied K.W. a FAPE (March 2015 HOD). See 20 U.S.C. § 1415(a). Hearing Officer Vaden determined that the Lab School was a beneficial placement for K.W. and ordered DCPS to reimburse K.W.'s parents for the cost of the Lab School tuition for the 2014-15 school year. DCPS did not appeal the March 2015 HOD.

         This cycle repeated itself three more times. In the summer of 2015, K.W.'s parents met with DCPS to develop an appropriate IEP for the 2015-16 school year. The DCPS team proposed an IEP that would provide K.W. with 15 hours per week of specialized instruction to be implemented at Brent. K.W.'s parents again disagreed and filed a second due process complaint on September 10, 2015. On November 23, 2015, Independent Hearing Officer Keith Seat issued an HOD finding that the 2015-16 IEP denied a FAPE to K.W. and ordering DCPS to reimburse K.W.'s parents for his beneficial placement at the Lab School for the 2015-2016 school year (November 2015 HOD). DCPS did not appeal the November 2015 HOD.

         In the fall of 2016, K.W.'s parents again met with DCPS to develop an appropriate IEP for the 2016-17 school year. DCPS again proposed 15 hours of specialized instruction in a public school setting and K.W.'s parents again disagreed. K.W.'s parents filed a third due process complaint on January 3, 2017, and reached a settlement with DCPS on February 1, 2017 (February 2017 Settlement). Under the February 2017 Settlement, K.W. remained at the Lab School and DCPS paid his educational expenses as required by IDEA.

         In October 2017, DCPS yet again proposed an IEP for K.W. for the 2017-18 school year that would have provided just 15 hours of specialized instruction in a public school setting. K.W.'s parents again disagreed and filed a due process complaint on December 8, 2017. On March 27, 2018, Independent Hearing Officer Michael Lazan determined that DCPS had denied a FAPE to K.W. by proposing a 15-hour-per-week IEP in his local public school (March 2018 HOD). Again, the March 2018 HOD ordered DCPS to reimburse K.W.'s parents for his beneficial placement at the Lab School for the 2017-18 school year. DCPS did not appeal the March 2018 HOD.

         On March 30, 2018, DCPS contacted K.W.'s parents to obtain documentation on K.W.'s education-related expenses. K.W.'s parents provided the requested documentation on May 3, 2018, and DCPS confirmed receipt. As of the filing of the instant Complaint on November 8, 2018, DCPS had not complied with the March 2018 HOD or fully reimbursed K.W.'s parents for his educational expenses for the 2017-2018 school year.

         During the summer of 2018, K.W.'s parents met with DCPS to develop an IEP for the 2018-19 school year. Several members of the IEP team from DCPS were the same persons who had proposed the previous two IEPs that had been found to deny K.W. a FAPE. Nonetheless, the DCPS team again proposed only 15 hours of specialized instruction per week for K.W. in a public-school setting, i.e., 3 hours per day, with the rest of each day to be spent in general education without support. As relevant here, the Complaint alleges that the DCPS-proposed IEP for K.W. for the 2018-19 school year was functionally identical to the DCPS-proposed IEP for K.W. for the 2017-18 school year that Hearing Officer Lazan had already found to be a denial of FAPE in the March 2018 HOD. The DCPS-proposed 2018-19 IEP for K.W. was also highly similar to the DCPS-proposed IEP for K.W. for the 2015-16 school year, also found to be a denial of FAPE (November 2015 HOD), and the DCPS-proposed IEP for K.W. for the 2016-17 school year that was resolved through the 2017 Settlement and resulted in K.W. remaining in his placement at the Lab School.

         On November 8, 2018, K.W.'s parents filed the instant Complaint, alleging the denial of a FAPE for K.W. and violations of his civil rights by both DCPS and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education of the District of Columbia (OSSE). See Compl. [Dkt. 1]. On December 19, 2018, Defendants filed a motion for partial dismissal of the Complaint, including dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims as to Mayor Muriel Bowser, Interim Chancellor Amanda Alexander, and Superintendent Hansuel Kang in their official capacities. Plaintiffs oppose dismissal.[1]

         Plaintiffs filed a motion for stay-put relief on January 8, 2019, seeking a court order requiring DCPS to pay for K.W. at the Lab School of Washington, effective immediately and through the pendency of this litigation, and to reimburse K.W.'s parents for money already spent for K.W.'s tuition and transportation for the 2018-19 school year to date. Defendants oppose, asserting that Plaintiffs' argument for stay-put relief fails because Plaintiffs have no cause of action to enforce a favorable Hearing Officer Determination and because Plaintiffs have not exhausted their administrative remedies regarding the 2018-19 IEP.[2]

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Motion to Dismiss

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) requires a complaint to be sufficient “to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted). Although a complaint need not include detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. The facts alleged “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. A complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to state a claim for relief that is “plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. When a plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged, then the claim has facial plausibility. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. A court must treat the complaint's factual allegations as true, “even if doubtful in fact.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A court need not accept as true legal conclusions set forth in a complaint. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         In deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits or incorporated by reference, and matters about which the court may take judicial notice. Abhe & Svoboda, Inc. v. Chao, 508 F.3d 1052, 1059 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

         B. ...


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