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Independent School District No. 283 v. E.M.D.H.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

May 24, 2019

Independent School District No. 283, Plaintiff,
v.
E.M.D.H., a minor, by and through her parents and next friends, L.H. and S.D., Defendants.

          Katharine Saphner, Esq., and Peter A. Martin, Esq., Knutson, Flynn & Deans, PA, counsel for Plaintiff.

          Amy J. Goetz, Esq., and Andrea L. Jepsen, Esq., School Law Center, LLC, counsel for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DONOVAN W. FRANK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         In this action, Independent School District No. 283 (the “District”) moves for judgment on the administrative record seeking reversal of a July 27, 2018 decision issued by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Doc. No. 20.) The July Decision ordered that the IEP of a high-school student whose parents previously lodged a due process complaint under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. (“IDEA”), be revised to include additional features and services. (See Doc. No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶ 2; Doc. No. 2 (the “July Decision”).) In addition, Defendants E.M.D.H. (the “Student”), a minor, by and through her parents and next friends, L.H and S.D. (the “Parents”), move for judgment as a matter of law and to strike the Declaration of Peter Martin (Doc. No. 23). (Doc. No. 37.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the District’s motion on jurisdictional grounds, denies the Defendants’ motions, and vacates the July Decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Defendants assert that the Student has been denied her right to a free and appropriate education under the IDEA. In a March 16, 2018 hearing decision (the “March Decision”), the ALJ found the Student eligible for special education and ordered, among other things, that the District implement an IEP with certain substantive features. Specifically, the March Decision required the District to immediately change the Student’s educational placement by providing her a free, appropriate public education (“FAPE”) consisting of special education and related services, at public expense, until her high-school graduation. (See Civ. No. 18-935 (“E.M.D.H. I”), Doc. No. 2 (the “March Decision”).) As part of the March Decision, the ALJ reached the following conclusions:

1. The School District failed to conduct an appropriate evaluation of Student when it did not complete required assessments and failed to reach appropriate conclusions about Student’s eligibility. Parents are entitled to reimbursement for their [independent educational evaluation (“IEE”)] as a matter of law.
2. Student is eligible for special education and related services under the IDEA because her condition meets the definition of serious emotional disturbance/emotional behavioral disorder (EBD) and other health impairment (OHI)/other health disabilities (OHD).
3. The School District failed to timely identify Student as a possible child with a disability when Student refused to consistently attend school during eighth grade as a result of her deteriorating mental health.
4. The School District denied Student a FAPE when it did not timely and appropriately identify and evaluate her, determine her eligible, and provide her with special education and related services designed to enable her to make educational progress appropriate in light of her circumstances. Student is entitled to services appropriate to address her loss of educational benefit, including her lack of credits toward graduating, and teaching her skills to cope effectively with her disabilities.

(Id. at 4-5.) The ALJ further ordered that:

1. Student is a child with a disability under the IDEA, and eligible for special education and related services delivered via an IEP reasonably calculated to enable her to make educational progress in light of her circumstances.
2. The IEP must be formulated and in place no later than April 16, 2018. The initial version of the IEP shall include academic and functional goals designed to assist Student in accessing the curriculum she is intellectually capable of, make progress toward graduation, transition into post-secondary activities, and to gradually move to a less restrictive environment. Goals, instruction, and services must, at a minimum, be designed to provide Student instruction about her disabilities, coping strategies, and recognizing triggers and early physiological signs of anxiety so that she can effectively implement coping strategies. Supplemental services must be provided to teachers and staff who work with Student to teach them about Student’s disabilities, triggers of arousal, and the coping strategies Student must learn and use. The IEP must permit Student to work at her own pace, including requiring teachers to set time limits for tests and assignments with Student’s input. The IEP must provide Student with a resource room or quiet and uncrowded place to go when she needs a break due to arousal. The IEP shall also include a placement in a program identical to the program currently provided by Beyond Risk Youth, but must include an increased level of instruction and services as determined appropriate by the IEP team, and may permit Student to choose whether she participates in large group activities during the academic day.
3. Student’s IEP team must meet at least quarterly, following the implementation of the initial version of the IEP, to evaluate Student’s academic and functional progress, and consider placement changes. Any disagreements will be subject to dispute resolution options under state and federal law. These educational services must remain available to Student until she graduates from secondary school.
4. Dr. Sulik and Heather Lindstrom must be invited to all IEP team meetings for Student, and will be reimbursed by the School District at a reasonable, good faith, contracted rate between the School District and the providers.
5. The School District must reimburse Parents for the cost of the private program provided by Heather Lindstrom since January 5, 2018. Future payments for Lindstrom’s services must be paid directly to Lindstrom, based on invoices provided by Lindstrom to the School District. All payments must be made within 30 calendar days of the School District’s receipt of an invoice.
6. The School District must reimburse Parents $21,208.80 for the IEE activities of Dr. Sulik, Dr. Ziegler, Wendy Selnas [sic], and Heather Lindstrom. This amount includes the combined fees charged by Lindstrom for tutoring and assessments until January 5, 2018. Payment must be made within 30 calendar days of the date of this Order.
7. The School District must, within 30 days of the date of this Order, reimburse Parents $2,430 for the assessment conducted by Dr. Reese in May, 2017.
8. Parents are the prevailing party in this matter.

(Id. at 28-29.)

         On April 4, 2018, the District brought an action in this Court, E.M.D.H. I, challenging the March Decision.[1] The District then moved to stay certain portions of the March Decision. Defendants opposed the motion and asked the Court to order that the following additional services be part of the Student’s IEP:

• expert and intensive behavioral support services;
• expert and intensive psychological and counseling ...

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