D.L. v. District of Columbia: How Does this Ruling Impact Me and My Child?

D.L. v. District of Columbia is a class action lawsuit filed in 2005 by the parents of children, ages three through five, alleging that DC was violating the “Child Find” requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and other laws by failing to provide special education to their children and hundreds of other preschoolers with disabilities in a timely fashion. “Child Find” is a legal requirement that schools identify, locate and evaluate all children between birth and age 21 who have disabilities (or are suspected of having a disability) and who may be entitled to special education services.[1] The District Court ruled against the District of Columbia, finding that, among other things, the District failed to identify, evaluate and provide services to  hundreds of children annually. On May 18, 2016, the District Court imposed a detailed injunction requiring the District of Columbia to improve its special education system to comply with the IDEA and local law.  Both the district court’s ruling and injunction were affirmed by the Court of Appeals. Therefore, this injunction will remain in effect until the District demonstrates consistent compliance.  Plaintiffs’ counsel, Terris, Pravlik & Millian, LLP and Margaret Kohn, are monitoring the District’s programs to make sure that this injunction is being followed.

Impact of the Ruling 

AJE’s mission is to increase parents’ knowledge of their children’s rights within the District of Columbia educational system and to increase school accountability. In this blog post, we are providing information about D.L. v. District of Columbia because the ruling in this case may impact you and/or your child if:

1 – You have, or know of a child, who should have been identified for special education services as a preschooler but was not identified as a student with a disability and did not receive services at that time.

2 – You have, or know, a preschool aged child, who was referred for a special education evaluation but it took too long to have this evaluation completed or have eligibility determined.

    • In DC, the law requires District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and charter schools to conduct an initial evaluation and make an eligibility determination within 60 calendar days from the date of parental consent.  If a written or oral referral is made by a parent or a non-parent, such as a healthcare provider or a school employee, the school has 30 days to make reasonable efforts to obtain that parental consent to evaluate.  Remember that the District must obtain a parent’s consent to evaluate before evaluations can be done.

3 – You have or know a child who transitioned from Part C to Part B special education services who did not receive their services by the age of three (3).

    • The IDEA has four parts: A, B, C and D.
    • Simply put, Part C of the IDEA is a federal grant program that assists states in operating early intervention (EI) services for at-risk children from birth to their third birthdays. During this time, children identified for services have an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). Here is a link to OSSE’s policy manual on Part C, which gives basic definitions for pertinent terms and details Child Find requirements.
    • As the child approaches 3, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) should be created with the family, replacing the IFSP.  However, some families choose to remain in Part C longer and can remain until the school year that starts after the child’s fourth birthday, using the Extended IFSP Option for Children Age 3 to Age 4.
    • By law, every state must have policies and procedures to ensure an effective transition of services for children from Part C to Part B of IDEA. In DC, the Part C agency is Strong Start. Your Part B agency varies; but unless your child attends a charter school,  your Part B agency is Early Stages which is part of District of Columbia Public Schools.  If your child attends a charter school, then that charter school is their Part B agency.
    • Part A lays out the basic foundation for the rest of the Act by defining the terms used within the Act as well as providing for the creation of the Office of Special Education Programs. Part D describes national activities to be undertaken to improve the education of children with disabilities. However, neither of these Parts is pertinent to understanding the ruling in this case.

Next Steps 

If you believe that you fall into one or more of the above categories (listed as 1, 2 and 3) please call AJE if you would like to discuss your options.  You may choose to file an individual due process complaint or access other dispute resolution options. AJE can help you determine your rights and legal options.  We can also provide you with referrals to local lawyers who may be willing to assist you with a due process complaint free of charge on a pro bono or contingency basis; but AJE cannot guarantee that these attorneys will take your case.

While it is possible to do so, AJE does not recommend that families file due process complaints on their own.

Additional Reading 

  • You can read the full opinion of DL v. District of Columbia.
  • In June 23, 2017, the Washington Post addressed the federal appeals court ruling that upheld the decision in DL v. District of Columbia. The article is attached here.
  • Each state has its own specific rules and regulations that govern a child’s transition of services between Part C and Part B of the IDEA. As an example, AJE has a webinar about moving from Part C to Part B here.
  • Why is identifying a child for special education services and providing early intervention as early as possible so important? This article summarizes Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child’s research on the subject.



[1]  The “Child Find” duty  from 20 U.S.C.§1412(a)(3) states, “All children with disabilities residing in the State, including children with disabilities who are homeless children or are wards of the State, and children with disabilities attending private schools, regardless of the severity of their disability, and who are in need of special education and related services, are identified, located and evaluated and a practical method is developed and implemented to determine which children are currently receiving needed special education and related services.” 34 CFR 3000.111(a); 5 DCMR 3002.1(d). Child Find is an affirmative duty placed on Local Education agencies by IDEA as a condition to receive federal funds from the Department of Education via their State Education Agency (in DC, that agency is OSSE) for the education of children with disabilities. DC’s plan is here

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