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Jason E. v. Dep't of Educ.

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

November 20, 2014

JASON E., by and through his parent and best friend, LINDA E., and LINDA E. individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, STATE OF HAWAII, KATHRYN MATAYOSHI, in her official capacity as the Superintendent and Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Education, State of Hawaii, HAWAII TECHNOLOGY ACADEMY GOVERNING SCHOOL BOARD, MICHAEL FINDLEY, in his capacity as the chairperson of the Hawaii Technology Academy Governing School Board, HAWAII TECHNOLOGY ACADEMY, and LEIGH FITZGERALD, in her official capacity as the Executive Director of Hawaii Technology Academy, Defendants

Linda E., Plaintiff, Pro se, Kaneohe, HI.

For Department of Education, State of Hawaii, Defendant: Eric J. Alabanza, LEAD ATTORNEY; Kris S. Murakami, Larry N. Kloenhamer, Monica T.L. Morris, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Department of the Attorney General Education Division, Honolulu, HI; Michelle M.L. Puu, LEAD ATTORNEY, Dept. of the Attorney General - State of Hawaii, Education Division, Honolulu, HI; Toby M. Tonaki, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the Attorney General, Education Division, Honolulu, HI; Carter K. Siu, Department of the Attorney General, Education Division, Honolulu, HI.

For Kathryn Matayoshi, in her official capacity as the Superindent and Chief Executive Office of the Department of Education, State of Hawaii, Hawaii Technology Academy Governing School Board, Michael Findley, in his capacity as the chairperson of the Hawaii Technology Academy Governing School Board, Hawaii Technology Academy, Leigh Fitzgerald, in her official capacity as the Executive Director of Hawaii Technology Academy, Defendants: Michelle M.L. Puu, LEAD ATTORNEY, Dept. of the Attorney General - State of Hawaii, Education Division, Honolulu, HI.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS' THIRD AMENDED COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Alan C. Kay, Senior United States District Judge.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 20, 2012, Jason E. (" Student"), by and through his mother Linda E. (" Parent") (collectively " Plaintiffs"), filed a Complaint against the State of Hawaii's Department of Education (" DOE"). (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiffs' Complaint sought, inter alia, the reversal of an Administrative Hearing Officer's May 21, 2012 decision regarding an Individualized Education Program (" IEP") set for Student's 2012-2013 school year. (Id.) Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (" IDEA"), a qualified disabled child is entitled to receive an IEP that offers a Free Appropriate Public Education (" FAPE").

On October 1, 2012, the DOE filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint. (Doc. No. 19.) On February 14, 2013, the Court issued an Order Granting the DOE's Motion to Dismiss (" Feb. 14 Order"). (Doc. No. 31.) In the Feb. 14 Order, the Court concluded that Plaintiffs' Complaint for relief under the IDEA was moot because Parent had executed a Revocation of Consent Form indicating that she no longer wanted Student to receive IDEA special education services. Feb. 14 Order at 17-23. However, in an abundance of caution, the Court allowed Plaintiffs to amend their Complaint, reasoning as follows:

[I]t is possible that Parent has an argument that [the DOE] should have honored the Revocation of Consent Form on June 15, 2012 by treating Student as a general education student and continuing his enrollment at [Hawaii Technology Academy (" HTA")]. Instead of asking for a mandate for special education services, Parent could adjust her claim to reflect her intent for Student to be treated as a general education student at HTA.

Id. at 25. Further, the Court " note[d] that, on the other hand, HTA has submitted a letter dated February 6, 2013, attached hereto as Exhibit A, setting forth the school's reasons why Student should not remain at HTA as a general education student." Id.

Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint on March 19, 2013, and subsequently filed a Second Amended Complaint on May 10, 2013. (Doc. Nos. 33 & 38.)

On August 28, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Request Court to Hear Additional Evidence. (Doc. No. 49.) On October 2, 2013, the Court issued an Order denying this motion and staying the case (" Oct. 2 Order"). (Doc. No. 62.) The Court stayed the case because the parties were involved in a proceeding in the Family Court of the First Circuit of the State of Hawaii (" Family Court"). See Oct. 2 Order at 9-12.

On December 9, 2013, the Court issued a minute order lifting the stay because the case in the Family Court had been dismissed. (Doc. No. 70.)

On May 7, 2014, Plaintiffs filed the operative Third Amended Complaint against the DOE, Kathryn Matayoshi, in her official capacity as the Superintendent and Chief Executive Officer of the DOE, HTA Governing School Board, Michael Findley, in his capacity as the chairperson of HTA Governing School Board, HTA, and Leigh Fitzgerald, in her official capacity as the Executive Director of HTA (collectively " Defendants"). (Doc. No. 81.) On June 2, 2014, Defendants filed an Answer. (Doc. No. 84.)

On July 31, 2014, Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 85.) On October 20, 2014, Plaintiffs filed an Opposition to Defendants' Motion. (Doc. No. 88.)

A hearing regarding Defendants' Motion was held on November 10, 2014.[1]

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

At the time of this proceeding, Student is 13 years old. (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 3.) Student was born with Down Syndrome and a heart condition. (Mot. Ex. 1 at 4.) He has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. (Id.) He also has mild bilateral hearing loss and wears corrective lenses to read. (Id.) From 2008-2012, Student received IDEA special education services. (Id. at 6-29; Third Am. Compl. ¶ 11.)

For the school years 2008-2012, Student attended Hawaii Technology Academy, a DOE Public Charter School.[2] (Mot. Ex. 1 at 6-29; Third Am. Compl. ¶ 11.) HTA educates students using a " hybrid" model of face-to-face classes meeting three days a week combined with a computer-based education program called " Online School." (Mot. Ex. 1 at 4-5.) The DOE implemented an IEP for Student at HTA for every school year from 2008-2012.[3]

On May 19, 2011, Student's IEP team issued an IEP that recommended placing Student in a full-time face-to-face instruction program instead of HTA. (Id. at 21-22.) Parent objected to the IEP's recommendation to remove her son from HTA. (Id. at 26.) On July 27, 2011, Plaintiffs filed a Request for Impartial Due Process Hearing to contest the May 19, 2011 IEP. (Id. at 2.) The Administrative Hearing Officer (" AHO") held a hearing over the course of five days and issued her decision on May 21, 2012. (Id. at 2-3.) The AHO concluded that (1) the May 19, 2011 IEP offered Student a FAPE at the placement of Heeia Elementary, and (2) HTA is not an appropriate placement because Student " requires a face-to-face full time program" instead of the hybrid program offered at HTA. (Id. at 41-43.)

On May 31, 2012, Leigh Fitzgerald, HTA's Executive Director, sent Parent a letter informing her that HTA will be implementing the May 19, 2011 IEP and advising her to enroll Student at Heeia Elementary, Student's geographic home school. (Id. Ex. 2.) Also on May 31, 2012, Dean Tsukada, District Education Specialist (" DEC") for the Leeward School District, sent a memo to Rebecca Rosenberg, DEC for the Windward School District, advising her of Student's impending enrollment at Heeia Elementary and requesting a " transition meeting" to share information regarding Student's needs. (Id. Ex. 3.)

On June 7, 2012, Rosenberg sent a letter to Parent outlining Student's Extended School Year (" ESY") services and stating that, pursuant to the AHO's decision, ESY services would be conducted in the Windward School District beginning on June 12, 2012. (Id. Ex. 4.)

On June 12, 2012, Fitzgerald sent a letter to Parent stating that Student would be released from HTA on June 18, 2012, because of the AHO's May 21, 2012 decision. (Id. Ex. 5.)

On June 15, 2012, Parent signed a " Revocation of Consent for Continued Provision of Special Education and Related Services" (" Revocation of Consent Form"). (Id. Ex. 6.) This form stated that (1) Parent wished to " revoke my consent to the continued provision of special education and related services to my child, " (2) the DOE will " no longer be required to have an . . . [IEP] for my child, " and (3) Plaintiffs " will no longer be entitled to the procedural safeguards established in the [IDEA]." [4] (Id.)

Parent also sent an email on June 15, 2012, to HTA stating that she had delivered the Revocation of Consent Form. Oct. 2 Order at 5. In her email, Parent stated: " I agree that the result of my revocation for continued special education and related services described above will be that an IEP will no longer be implemented nor required." Id. According to the email, Parent believed that Student would " remain a registered and enrolled general education student at [HTA]." Id. This email also contains a paragraph where parent states that the IDEA gives Parent " unilateral authority to refuse special education and related services, including the related issue of revocation of consent for the continued provision of special education and related services." Id. at 5-6.

On June 18, 2012, the HTA school-wide withdrawal date for students, HTA withdrew Student from enrollment at the school. Id. at 6.

On June 19, 2012, HTA issued a Prior Written Notice (" PWN") to Parent stating that Student was " no longer eligible for special education and related services." (Mot. Exs. 7-8.) The PWN explained that Parent had the option of receiving special education services under the most recent IEP, but that services would not be provided because " parent has requested that all services be revoked." (Id.)

In an exchange of letters between Parent and the DOE, HTA stated it withdrew Student on June 18, 2012 " as instructed by the hearing officer's ruling" and because the Revocation of Consent Form was not effective until Parent received the June 20, 2012 PWN. Oct. 2 Order at 6. HTA stated that Parent could apply to enroll Student as a general education student for the upcoming year. Id. at 6-7. Parent applied to enroll Student at HTA for the 2012-2013 school year, but Student was placed on the waiting list. Id. at 7. Student was not readmitted to HTA for the 2012-2013 school year; instead, Parent homeschooled Student. Id.

On June 20, 2012, Plaintiffs filed their original Complaint in this action. The Court issued its Order regarding the DOE's Motion to Dismiss on February 14, 2013.

On March 4, 2013, the DOE filed a Petition for Family Supervision in the Family Court. Oct. 2 Order at 7. That petition alleged, inter alia, that Parent had not been providing Student an appropriate education.

On March 13, 2013, the DOE received an " Exceptions to Compulsory Education" form from Parent, which requested that Student be withdrawn from the 2012 school year because Parent ...


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