TPM Wins Injunction Requiring Improvements to District of Columbia’s Provision of Special Education and Related Services for Preschoolers in the District

In DL v. District of Columbia, on May 18, 2016, the district court found the District of Columbia liable for violating children’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and District law through November 12, 2015, and the Rehabilitation Act until March 22, 2010, and issued an injunction.  The district court enjoined the District of Columbia from further violations of the IDEA and District law, and ordered specific corrective actions, including that the District ensure that (1) at least 8.5 percent of children between the ages of three and five who reside in the District or are wards of the District receive necessary special education and related services, (2) at least 95 percent of all children between the ages of three and five referred for special education services receive a timely eligibility determination, and (3) at least 95 percent of all children receiving Part C services (early intervention services for children up to three years of age) that are found eligible for Part B services (special education and related services for children ages three and older) receive a smooth and effective transition to those Part B services by their third birthdays.

The injunction also includes specific provisions related to the measurement and monitoring of compliance.  Specifically, the District of Columbia was ordered to correct several metrics that it uses to measure compliance with these benchmarks, which had made it appear that it was performing much better than it actually was.

The District of Columbia is required to provide annual reports on its compliance with the numerical benchmarks and semi-annual reports regarding compliance with other programmatic requirements.  The injunction will remain in effect until the District has demonstrated sustained compliance with its requirements.

The district court wrote that “The District’s lack of effective Child Find and transition policies is particularly troubling in light of the intense scrutiny and seemingly constant admonishment it has received over the last decade.  In 2011, this Court stated, ‘Defendant’s persistent failure to live up to their statutory obligations, a failure that works a severe and lasting harm on one of society’s most vulnerable populations—disabled preschool children—is deeply troubling to this Court.’ * * * Moreover, as discussed, OSEP [the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs] informed OSSE [the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education] in 2015 that it ‘needs intervention in implementing the requirements of Part B of the IDEA’ for the ‘ninth consecutive year,’ which is the longest period in the country. * * * Although OSEP’s long-running ‘needs intervention’ determination does not deal exclusively with the statutory obligations at issue in this litigation, it contributes to the overarching narrative that the District requires strong, outside involvement to produce even minimally acceptable results.  And critically, this litigation has been ongoing for more than ten years, providing the District with ample time and robust incentives to come into full compliance with the law.  It is for these reasons that a structural injunction is necessary.”

The district court concluded by stating that “The District has come a long way since 2005 when this lawsuit was initiated, but it has not come far enough.  Indeed, while its progress has been in some ways impressive, the District started at such a low base that the advances it has made are insufficient to bring it into compliance with its legal obligations. The Court today makes clear that the implementation and outcomes of the District’s policies are paramount.  The District will comply with its statutory obligations when it actually locates and identifies children to provide them with a FAPE [free appropriate public education], timely evaluates them, timely determines their eligibility, and smoothly and effectively transitions them—not when they establish policies that, if properly implemented, would achieve these goals.  If the defendants fail[] to abide by the order and adopt a more outcome-based approach, the District will earn far more significant court involvement and oversight than is ordered today.”

We are pleased with the injunction and believe that it will have a positive and lasting impact on children with disabilities in the District of Columbia.  We hope that this will draw this case closer to its end and that, rather than appealing, the District will focus its attention and resources on the needed improvements.

For more information with regard to this case, click here.