United States District Court, District of Columbia
ROSEMARY M. COLLYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
a teenager with learning disabilities whose parents sue the
District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) on his behalf and
for themselves. The Complaint alleges that DCPS failed to
provide R.B. with the free appropriate public education
(FAPE) to which he is legally entitled for the 2017-2018
school year. An independent hearing officer decided that DCPS
properly prepared an Individualized Education Program (IEP)
for R.B. that was reasonably tailored to his special
education needs. Plaintiffs appeal, arguing that the hearing
officer erred in ruling for DCPS on the appropriateness of
R.B.'s IEP and school placement.
on February 14, 2018, the Hearing Officer Determination (HOD)
denied Plaintiffs' claim that DCPS violated the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as
amended by the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Improvement Act of 2004, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et
seq., by failing to provide R.B. with a FAPE. IDEA
provides that any party aggrieved by an HOD may seek redress
through a civil action in state or federal court.
Id. § 1415(i)(2). Plaintiffs ask the Court to
find that R.B. was denied a FAPE in all the ways alleged in
the Complaint, to declare that The Lab School of Washington
(The Lab School), a private school serving disabled students,
is R.B.'s proper placement, and to order DCPS to
reimburse R.B.'s tuition at The Lab School for the
2017-2018 school year.
a District of Columbia resident. 2018 HOD, AR at
He has been diagnosed with multiple learning disabilities,
including Specific Learning Disability (SLD) and Other Health
Impairment (OHI) due to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder (ADHD). Id.; see also 3/20/16
Confidential Comp. Psychological Re-Evaluation, AR at 77-118;
7/20/16 IEP Meeting Notes, AR at 194-99. His diagnosis means
that R.B. is considered a “child with a
disability” under IDEA, 34 C.F.R. §
300.8(c)(10)(i), and that he is entitled to an IEP.
Id. § 300.323.
was first deemed eligible to receive special education
services through DCPS in July 2016. 7/20/16 IEP Meeting
Notes, AR at 194-99. Between 2014 and 2017, R.B.'s
parents filed a series of administrative complaints against
DCPS regarding R.B.'s special education status. The first
complaint resulted in a settlement. The second and third
complaints led to HODs in 2016 and 2017, with each finding
that DCPS had denied R.B. a FAPE. The immediate HOD on appeal
concluded that DCPS had met its obligations under IDEA; this
February 2018 HOD is now before the Court on appeal by
R.B.'s Early Education Years
kindergarten through fifth grade, R.B. attended Horace Mann
Elementary School, part of DCPS. 3/20/16 Confidential Comp.
Psychological Re-Evaluation, AR at 77. While R.B. was at
Horace Mann, his parents were concerned about his writing
skills, homework completion, and his stress and anxiety
levels about school. On November 6, 2013, DCPS convened a
student support team to discuss R.B.'s ongoing
difficulties. See 2016 HOD, AR at 53.
December 2013 and early January 2014, R.B. was evaluated by
an independent psychologist. The psychologist found that R.B.
demonstrated weaknesses in areas of attention and executive
function, spelling, written language, phonological
processing, and fine motor skills, and showed increased
levels of depression. 2016 HOD, AR at 53. The psychologist
diagnosed R.B. with ADHD combined type, a disorder of written
language, and developmental coordination disorder. The
psychologist recommended that R.B. be provided with an IEP,
as well as targeted remediation and classroom and testing
parents submitted the independent psychologist's report
to DCPS in February 2014. A psychologist employed by DCPS
conducted her own evaluation that included a review of
R.B.'s academic records, student and teacher interviews,
and classroom observations. Id. at 58-59. The DCPS
psychologist concluded that R.B. did not require an IEP, in
part because R.B. had not demonstrated consistent
below-grade-level performance. Id. at 59.
The 2014 Due Process Complaint and Settlement
held an eligibility meeting concerning R.B. on May 6, 2014.
DCPS told R.B.'s parents that it found R.B. to be
ineligible for special education services. However, DCPS
proposed that R.B. be provided with a Section 504 plan.
Id. A Section 504 plan, named after the section of
the Rehabilitation Act in which it was established,
see Pub. L. No. 93-112, 87 Stat. 355 (codified as
amended in 29 U.S.C. § 794), “is designed to
assist students with learning or behavior problems even if
they do not qualify for an Individualized Education Plan
(IEP) under the IDEA.” Horne v. Potomac Preparatory
P.C.S., No. 15-cv-115, 2016 WL 3962788, at *2 n.2
(D.D.C. July 20, 2016). DCPS recommended a Section 504 plan
for R.B. that would include occupational therapy services,
behavioral support services, and various accommodations.
R.B.'s parents declined such a plan. 2016 HOD, AR at 54;
see also 3/20/16 Confidential Comp. Psychological
Re-Evaluation, AR at 77.
on May 19, 2014, R.B.'s parents filed a due process
complaint under IDEA challenging the conclusion that R.B. was
ineligible for special education services. 2016 HOD, AR at
59. R.B.'s parents also notified DCPS that they intended
to seek public funding for R.B. to attend a private school.
Id. R.B.'s parents subsequently placed him in
The Lab School, a special education day school that
exclusively serves students with disabilities. See
2018 HOD, AR at 7, 10; see also 2/1/18 Hearing Tr.,
AR at 688. R.B. enrolled at The Lab School at the beginning
of the 2014-2015 school year, when R.B. entered sixth grade.
October 2014, DCPS settled the 2014 due process complaint
filed by R.B.'s parents. 2016 HOD, AR at 60. DCPS agreed
to fund R.B. at The Lab School for the 2014-2015 school year
and to assess R.B.'s eligibility for special education
services by the end of April 2015. Id.
The 2016 HOD
convened an eligibility meeting concerning R.B. in January
2015. Id. at 61. DCPS again determined that R.B. was
ineligible for special education services and offered to
develop a Section 504 plan for R.B. Id. at 62.
R.B.'s parents again declined a Section 504 plan and
filed another due process complaint. R.B.'s parents
sought a determination that DCPS had denied R.B. a FAPE and
also sought reimbursement for R.B.'s placement at The Lab
School for the 2015-2016 school year. Id. at 54.
was issued on January 3, 2016; it found that DCPS had failed
to evaluate R.B. sufficiently to determine his eligibility
for special education services, id. at 65, and that
further testing of R.B. was required, since the evidence in
the record did not establish R.B.'s eligibility for an
IEP. Id. at 66-68. The HOD ordered the District to
determine R.B.'s eligibility within 75 calendar days and,
if R.B. were determined to be eligible, to develop an IEP
within 30 days. Id. at 70. It further ordered DCPS
to fund R.B.'s enrollment at The Lab School for the
2015-2016 school year. Id. at 70-71.
The 2017 HOD
20, 2016, after several rounds of testing, DCPS found R.B. to
be eligible for special education services as a student with
multiple disabilities including SLD and OHI. See
7/20/16 IEP Meeting Notes, AR at 194-99. Thereafter, DCPS
proposed an IEP for R.B. that would have provided 10 hours
per week of specialized instruction “inside of general
education, ” 60 minutes per month of behavioral support
services “outside of general education, ” and 240
minutes per month of occupational therapy split evenly
between inside and outside general education. 2017 HOD, AR at
232. DCPS indicated that R.B.'s likely placement would be
at Deal Middle School, a public school within DCPS. See
id at 233; see also Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J.
(Pls.' Mot.) [Dkt. 16] at 9. The parents disagreed with
the proposed IEP, maintaining that R.B should not be placed
in a general education setting. 2017 HOD, AR at 233. They
also objected that the IEP did not provide for speech and
language services. Id.
parents filed another due process complaint in August 2016
and a due process hearing was held in February 2017.
Id. at 226-27. The HOD was issued on February 20,
2017, in which the hearing officer agreed with R.B.'s
parents in part. See Id. at 225-50. While the HOD
found that R.B. was ineligible for speech and language
services, it also found that R.B.'s IEP was inappropriate
because the proposed quantity and method of specialized
instruction were deficient. The HOD noted that the average
general education class size in which R.B. would be placed at
Deal consisted of approximately 20 students, id. at
240, but “found the opinions of the Parents'
experts, that [R.B.] requires full-time specialized
instruction in a small classroom setting, more credible than
the contrary opinion of [the] DCPS Specialist that [R.B.]
could be adequately served in the general education
setting.” Id. at 242.
the hearing officer was not persuaded “that
[R.B.'s] least restrictive environment is a special
school like [The Lab School], where there are no typically
developing peers.” Id. at 247. He
“expressly [did] not find that [R.B.] could not receive
educational benefits in a small, structured classroom in a
traditional public school.” Id.
remedy, the HOD ordered DCPS to hold an IEP meeting before
May 31, 2017, and to revise R.B.'s IEP in conformity with
the 2017 HOD. It further ordered DCPS to fund R.B.'s
placement at The Lab School for the 2016-2017 school year.
Id. at 248.
The 5/1/17 IEP
to the 2017 HOD, DCPS held an IEP meeting for R.B. on May 1,
2017. 5/1/17 IEP Meeting Notes, AR at 270-85. The meeting
included participants from DCPS and The Lab School, as well
as R.B.'s family and representatives. See Id. at
meeting resulted in a revised IEP that would have provided
R.B. with 25.5 hours of specialized instruction per week, 120
minutes per month of behavioral support services, and 360
minutes per month of occupational therapy, all to be provided
outside general education. 5/1/17 IEP, AR at 287-314. The IEP
also required the following classroom aids and services:
Extended time, advance notice of tests, calculator, extra
processing/wait time, mark on test, location with minimal
distractions, preferential seating close to the point of
instruction and with minimal distractions, repetition of oral
and written directions, small group setting, word processing
software with spell-check features, word bank, flexibility in
scheduling, frequent breaks, grid paper for math, simplified
visual field, cues to wear glasses.
Id. at 310. During the meeting, DCPS stated that
R.B. would have lunch and electives in the general education
setting. 5/1/17 IEP Meeting Notes, AR at 278.
representatives agreed with most of the provisions of the
IEP. 2018 HOD, AR at 9. However, they objected to R.B. having
lunch and electives with non-disabled peers. They also
expressed concern that the IEP did not provide for speech and
language services. 5/1/17 IEP Meeting Notes, AR at 278-79.
DCPS disagreed and advised that a school assignment would be
forthcoming. Id. at 279.
24, 2017, R.B. received a letter from DCPS stating that his
school placement would be Woodrow Wilson High School (Woodrow
Wilson HS) for the 2017-2018 school year. 5/24/17 DCPS
Location of Services Letter, AR at 317. The letter stated
that “Woodrow Wilson HS has the programming in place
for the 2017-2018 school year to meet [R.B.'s] IEP
needs.” Id. The letter further explained that
“[Woodrow Wilson HS has] . . . space available in the
Specific Learning Support . . . classroom for [R.B.'s]
next grade level.” Id.
Specific Learning Support (SLS) program is for students with
learning disabilities or challenges “where behavior is
not the primary impediment to access the general education
curriculum.” Resource Guide at 18. SLS classrooms
provide special education to students whose IEPs require 20
or more hours of specialized instruction. See Id. at
3. SLS students typically learn their “core
content” in an ...