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J.A. ex rel. T.L. v. Moorhead Public Schools

United States District Court, District of Minnesota

February 23, 2015

J.A., ex rel., T.L. and C.A., her natural parents and guardians, Plaintiffs,
v.
Moorhead Public Schools, ISD No. 152, Defendant.

Margaret O’Sullivan Kane, Esq., Kane Education Law, LLC, St. Paul, MN, on behalf of Plaintiffs.

Jenny Gassman-Pines, Esq., Greene Espel PLLP, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ANN D. MONTGOMERY U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

I. INTRODUCTION

On January 12, 2015, the undersigned United States District Judge heard oral argument on Moorhead Public Schools, ISD No. 152's (“Moorhead” or “the School”) Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 31]. Plaintiff J.A., ex rel., T.L. and C.A. (“J.A.” or “Plaintiff”) opposes the motion. For the reasons set forth below, Moorhead’s motion is granted.

II. BACKGROUND

J.A. is a five-year-old girl who was diagnosed with Down syndrome in infancy. Am. Compl. [Docket No. 3] ¶ 18. She is currently unable to directly communicate through words and instead relies on word and sound imitation and a limited series of signs to communicate. Id. ¶ 19.

J.A. attends Robert Asp Elementary in Moorhead, Minnesota. Id. at ¶ 18. She receives special education and related services under an individualized education program (“IEP”). Id. Her condition requires her to receive individualized assistance with academics and peer interactions. Id. ¶ 19. J.A. receives direct educational services for 50 minutes each day from a special education teacher. Id. J.A. also has sessions with an occupational therapist for 20 minutes bi-weekly, a speech language therapist for 20 minutes four times per week, and a physical therapist for 20 minutes three times per week. Id.

Her IEP allows J.A. to be taken out of the mainstream classroom for special education that can be taught with intention and focus. Compl. [Docket No. 1] Attach. 3. The IEP directs that J.A. is to be in the mainstream classroom with her peers for the remainder of the day. Am. Compl. ¶ 19. In addition to an IEP, J.A. has a Behavior Intervention Plan (“BIP”). Compl. Attach. 4. J.A.’s BIP states that she works best in a distraction free setting and references her occasional need for sensory breaks and quiet places to recover from overstimulation. Id. at 2, 6, 7.

A. Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent-teacher conferences were held on October 13, 2014. Am. Compl. ¶ 20. During the conferences, J.A.’s mother was given a tour of J.A.’s classrooms. Id. At this time, J.A.’s mother learned that the School was using a small, narrow room as J.A.’s quiet room. Id. ¶¶ 21, 22. The room is a windowless storage closet that is lined with filing cabinets and secured by a heavy, windowless door. Id. ¶ 22. It is alleged that the room is not ventilated, heated, or kept clean and does not comply with required fire and safety codes. Id. It is further alleged that the door was not connected to the automatic fire alarm and suppression system. Id.

Upon viewing the room, J.A.’s mother became upset and immediately left the school to speak with J.A.’s father. Id. ¶ 23. Both parents returned later that day to speak with principal Christopher Triggs and to take pictures of the room in question. Id. Because Triggs was unavailable at that time, the parents returned the following day to speak with him. Id. ¶¶ 23, 24. Triggs asserted that the room had previously been used for other special needs students and that it was being used because construction projects had limited available space. Id. ¶ 24. At the conclusion of the meeting, J.A.’s parents stated they did not intend to return J.A. to school. Id. In response, Triggs scheduled a meeting between J.A.’s mother, a Moorhead special education coordinator, and himself. Id. ¶ 25.

The following evening, on October 15, 2014, J.A.’s mother met with Triggs and Pat Sullivan, the special education coordinator. Id. ¶ 26. J.A.’s mother reiterated her intention of withholding J.A. from school. Id. Triggs responded that it was against the law to keep J.A. from her education; however, Triggs and Sullivan allowed J.A. to remain home for one week, until October 22, 2014. Id. Also, Triggs agreed to make some personnel changes and stated that the School would cease using the room for J.A. as another classroom had been located. Id. Despite the stated promises, J.A.’s mother remained reluctant to return J.A. to school. Id.

However, J.A. did return to the School as planned on October 22, 2014. Id. ¶ 28. At this time, J.A.’s parents sought the advice of counsel, who advised them of compulsory attendance requirements and recommended that J.A. not be returned to the School until the use of the room was completely discontinued. Id. ...


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