Resources: Ensuring Equal Access

Ensuring Equal Access

Current Law & Policy

  • Submitted to the Pennsylvania State Board of Education in March, 2016, this testimony from ELC Senior Staff Attorney Maura McInerney responds to proposed revisions to Chapter 11 of the Public School Code. She suggests an amendment to §11.20 that would allow the immediate enrollment of children experiencing homelessness and children currently in foster care, with immunization records to be provided following that enrollment.

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  • Senior Staff Attorney Maura McInerney presented this slideshow in February, 2016. The document reviews the Every Students Succeeds Act and considers the potential benefits and drawbacks for vulnerable students in Pennsylvania.

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  • This Pennsylvania Department of Education report offers 13 recommendations to build upon existing efforts and advance change within the state education system to meet the educational needs of Pennsylvania’s children experiencing homelessness.

    The findings and recommendations contained in this report were presented to the Governor, the President pro tempore of the Senate, the Minority Leader of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, the chairman and minority chairman of the Education Committee of the Senate and the chairman and minority chairman of the Education Committee of the House of Representatives.

     

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  • A 2014 ELC Fact Sheet providing legal guidance and resource links for questions about opting out of PSSA and Keystone Exams.

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  • This guide provides clearly explained legal rules for special education and early intervention programs in Pennsylvania for children from ages three to 21. 

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  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has developed an enrollment complaint process to investigate whether a school district has illegally determined that a student is not a resident of the school district or is not otherwise entitled to attend school in the district. This process applies to all public schools, including charter schools and cyber charter schools.

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  • La guía es un recurso rápido y fácil a los programas integrales de aprendizaje para la primera infancia en Pennsylvania para padres de niños con retrasos de desarollo o discapacidades. Describe ocho programas diferentes de aprendizaje temprano, incluso Early Head Start y Head Start, Infant and Toddler y Preschool Early Intervention, y Pre-K Counts, y proporciona información para padres sobre desarrollo infantil y cómo indentificar programas de aprendizaje temprano con calidad.

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  • May 2013 policy guidelines from the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning aimed at improving access to early learning opportunities for homeless children under the age of six.

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  • The Education Law Center is pleased to announce the publication of the second edition of A Family Guide to Inclusive Early Childhood Learning in Pennsylvania. This project has been supported by a grant from the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council.

    This guide is designed to be a quick and easy resource to inclusive early childhood learning programs in Pennsylvania for parents of children with developmental delays or disabilities.

    Download PDF

  • ELC’s step-by-step public school enrollment guide.

    Note: A child can be enrolled by a parent, foster parent, guardian, caseworker or anyone having charge or care of the child.

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  • In this March 2010 report, ELC proposes legal and policy changes that will ensure that alternative programs are adequately supported and monitored; that their services are consistently comparable to those offered to other Pennsylvania students; that students are placed in these programs only when their needs justify the assignment; that the programs operate in a manner that is consistent with applicable federal and state laws; and that, in a number of other respects, programs meet the high standards that the state has set for all of Pennsylvania’s public education programs – and justify the taxpayers’ investment of funds.

     

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  • This 2009 ELC handbook for attorneys and advocates who represent students examines the law on school discipline in Pennsylvania, which derives from the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions; federal and state statutes, regulations, and case law; and policies of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, school districts, and individual schools.

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  • Youth who are adjudicated delinquent frequently encounter problems in obtaining appropriate education services in placement, as well as when they are released and reintegrated into their communities. This 2009 Toolkit from the Education Law Center provides the basic information and resources needed to help juvenile probation officers and other juvenile justice professionals overcome these problems.

    Download PDF

  • A cyber charter school is a public charter school that provides most of its instruction to its students through the Internet or by some other electronic means. Students who are enrolled in a cyber charter school do most of their schoolwork at home over the computer — they do not go to classes in a school building.

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Ensuring Equal Access

Analysis & Research

  • On July 6, 2017, ELC Staff Attorney Maura McInerney provided testimony to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission opposing a proposed special education plan that would have substantially increased the provision of special education services in segregated settings.  After substantial opposition from advocates for students with disabilities, the Commission adopted a scaled-down version of its plan.

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  • ELC co-signed this letter to Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera in response to the denial of students’ right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the School District of Philadelphia in June, 2017.

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  • This letter, which was sent to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission on June 13, was written on behalf of the Philadelphia Coalition for Special Education Advocates and other organizations to oppose “Resolution IU7: Alternative Special Education Program for students with disabilities in grades K through 12” in the Philadelphia School District.

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  • Despite prohibiting the suspension of Kindergarten students, the School District of Philadelphia continues to suspend students in first through fifth grades at alarming rates. (more…)

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  • ELC wrote this letter to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission in reference to SRC Resolution B-4 on alternative education programs in April 2017, urging the Commission to postpone consideration of the Camelot contract to allow additional time for review and discussion and to raise significant concerns about the multi-year charter school renewals scheduled for a vote.

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  • A responsible charter school law must empower local governing bodies to strategically control charter growth as a tool to increase quality options and improve our system of public education for all communities. The charter school law should not force blind expansion on already burdened systems and compel the loss of neighborhood schools options. The Education Law Center wrote this letter to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in April 2017 urging them to oppose HB 97, the purported charter reform legislation.

    Please also view our fact sheet on HB 97.

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  • Education Law Center Staff Attorney Kristina Moon presented testimony on March 16, 2017 to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission on how the city’s schools can better meet the needs of students learning English, parents with limited English proficiency, and immigrant families.

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  • This testimony was presented in January, 2017 at a town hall meeting hosted by Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym and the School District of Philadelphia. It raises a number of issues related to the educational needs of immigrant students, students learning English, and their families.

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  • Published in February 2017, this analysis explains how Pennsylvania’s charter schools serve disproportionately fewer of the state’s vulnerable students than traditional public schools, too often segregating students by type of disability. Federal and state laws are clear that charter schools must provide quality public options for all pupils. With respect to students eligible for special education under Pennsylvania law and the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the data demonstrates that, even where charter schools are serving proportionate numbers of students with disabilities in line with their share of the overall student population, the charter sector by and large does not educate students with disabilities who require higher cost aids and services—e.g. students with intellectual disabilities, serious emotional disturbance, and multiple disabilities. Instead, the charter sector serves students with disabilities who require lower cost aids and services, such as speech and language impairment and specific learning disabilities.

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  • ELC submitted these comments to the U.S. Department of Education in response to the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) published in the Federal Register on May 31, 2016 regarding the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Through these comments, we highlight the critical need for greater accountability of schools serving educationally at risk students, especially students experiencing homelessness, students in foster care, and youth involved in and reentering from the juvenile justice system.

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  • In May 2016, ELC Staff Attorney Cheryl Kleiman testified at a Pittsburgh Public School Board hearing about the need to co-construct policies and practices with students and parents that decrease the use of exclusionary discipline and increase educational outcomes and opportunities for all students. ELC also urged the board to adopt a proposed Nondiscrimination Policy for Transgender Students and elevate the Program for Students with Exceptionalities to a cabinet level position to reflect the District’s commitment to inclusion for students with disabilities.

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  • The lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan has shined a light on a persistent, yet often invisible, problem in Pennsylvania. While many think of lead as an issue of the past, it is not. For many of Pennsylvania’s children, lead exposure continues to be a silent epidemic that plagues their communities and undermines their ability to learn. This brief, “Lead and Its Impact on Learning: What Schools, Parents & Policymakers Need to Know and Do,” written by Maura McInerney, Esq. and Alissa S. Werzen, M.D., was published February 11, 2016.

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  • In January 2016, ELC submitted comments in response to the U.S. Department of Education’s request for recommendations prior to publishing proposed regulations to implement programs under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

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  • In October 2015, the Education Law Center submitted comments to the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) on their draft of a proposed policy announcement: “Reduction of Suspensions and Expulsions in Early Childhood Programs in Pennsylvania (15-#1)” [.doc]. The draft announcement was based, in part, on the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education policy guidance on the issue, released in December 2014: Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension in Early Childhood Settings.

    ELC’s comments, available below, were informed by our expertise advocating for the rights of the most vulnerable children birth through age twenty one and our extensive experience listening to the hundreds of children and families we have served each year for the past four decades. These public comments are part of ELC’s larger body of work focused on reducing exclusionary discipline that is disproportionately used on vulnerable populations and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline that pushes at-risk youth into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

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  • In Unlocking the Door to Learning: Trauma-Informed Classrooms & Transformational Schools, ELC Senior Staff Attorney Maura McInerney, Esq. and Amy McKlindon, M.S.W. discuss the impact of trauma on learning and what schools and educators can do to create a trauma-informed learning environment.

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  • ELC Staff Attorney David Lapp’s recommendations on charter school legislation being considered by Pennsylvania State Legislature in June, 2015. Discussion includes a comparison of HB 530, PN 569 and SB 856, PN 968.

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  • Education Law Center Staff Attorney David Lapp’s testimony to the Pennsylvania Basic Education Funding Commission on November 18, 2014, entitled “Time for a Rational Fix to the Special Education Tuition in Pennsylvania Charter Schools.”

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  • Senior Staff Attorney Maura McInerney provided testimony to the Pennsylvania Senate’s Education Committee at their June 9th hearing on truancy. She discussed how punitive responses to truancy can be ineffectual and counterproductive and the importance of school-level interventions to improve attendance.

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  • ELC Attorney Leigh Loman provided this testimony to the National Council on Disability (NCD) on May 4-5 at their national meeting in Pittsburgh, PA. NCD is an independent federal agency responsible for advising the President, Congress and other federal agencies on issues affecting the lives of people with disabilities.

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  • A summary of the Education Law Center’s 2014 recommendations to improve educational outcomes for English Language Learners (ELL).

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  • On Feb. 2, 2015, the Education Law Center submitted comments on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015 Discussion Draft.

    The reauthorization of the ESEA offers an opportunity to update our nation’s primary federal education law to build upon the lessons learned since the last reauthorization. The Education Law Center urges Congress to reauthorize the ESEA in 2015 and address a number of priorities, including: Maintain a strong federal role in promoting equity and accountability; encourage states to fund schools equitably; protect Title I dollars for the poorest schools and districts; and act to end school pushout and the school-to-prison pipeline.

    Read ELC’s full comments.

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  • Education Law Center Attorney David Lapp’s December 11, 2014 testimony to the School District of Philadelphia examines the legislative intent of Pennsylvania’s charter school law and how the District should view the latest round of charter school applications.

    “There is tremendous promise in the theory of independently-operated public schools that are accountable for equitably serving all kinds of students, achieve superior results, and ultimately increase quality educational options in the larger system of public education. Unfortunately, we do not have such a system in Philadelphia.

    Until we do, the district is fully within its legal right to restrict charter school growth. Indeed, in order to comply with the legislative intent of the charter school law and with our state constitutional mandate for a “thorough and efficient system of public education,” the district is legally compelled to restrict charter growth.”

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  • The Education Law Center’s Maura McInerney delivered testimony on Oct. 6, 2014 to the Pennsylvania House Children and Youth Committee highlighting research on the importance of school stability.

    “Research shows that one of the most significant barriers to school success is school mobility. It is estimated that school age children in foster care commonly experience nearly three living arrangement changes during their first foster care stay. These children frequently change schools – on average three times in two years, with over a third of young adults in foster care reporting having five or more school changes,” said McInerney. “Children who change schools lose critical academic progress with every school move, which can be devastating to a child’s education,” she said.

    Download the complete testimony.

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  • The study, conducted by the PolicyLab at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (PolicyLab), was commissioned through a collaboration among the Mayor’s Office of Education, School District of Philadelphia (SDP), School Reform Commission, Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) and Philadelphia Youth Network.

    The study examines the educational outcomes of students in the 3rd, 7th, 9th, and 12th grades attending public schools in Philadelphia during the 2011-12 school year, a cohort of over 68,000 students. Findings revealed that students with a history of child welfare or juvenile justice involvement had substantially lower PSSA scores and promotion rates; higher rates of special education eligibility and absenteeism; accumulated fewer credits and disproportionately attended district-run comprehensive neighborhood schools and alternative schools compared to their never-involved peers.

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  • ELC’s policy recommendations based on the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) PolicyLab’s June 2014 report on Philadelphia school children involved with the child welfare or juvenile justice system.

    These are recommendations for effective systemic reform, including legislative change, as well as improved practices to support the educational success of these children and youth.

     

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  • This Pennsylvania Department of Education report offers 13 recommendations to build upon existing efforts and advance change within the state education system to meet the educational needs of Pennsylvania’s children experiencing homelessness.

    The findings and recommendations contained in this report were presented to the Governor, the President pro tempore of the Senate, the Minority Leader of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, the chairman and minority chairman of the Education Committee of the Senate and the chairman and minority chairman of the Education Committee of the House of Representatives.

     

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  • Education Law Center Attorney David Lapp’s March 7, 2014 testimony at the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s hearing highlights significant demographic disparities when comparing brick-and-mortar charter schools as a whole in Philadelphia to the School District of Philadelphia schools.

    (more…)

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  • The Senate Appropriations Committee passed SB 1085 by a 15-11 vote on November 19, 2013. Many major amendments were approved, but none addressed the underlying issues of improving charter school accountability and increasing access for all students that we raised in our initial analysis of SB 1085.

    There are several changes to the bill that raise new concerns for ELC.

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  • The Education Law Center testified on Nov. 15, 2013 asking the Pennsylvania Department of Education to utilize its clear legal authority and deny all six cyber charter applications currently under review.

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  • Charter school reform is needed in the Commonwealth and significant legislative effort has gone into two similar bills: HB 618 and SB 1085. The most recent bill to receive attention in the General Assembly is SB 1085.

    The Education Law Center supports some of the accountability provisions of SB 1085. However, through the lens of ELC’s charter reform principles and through the lens of the state constitutional mandate to maintain and support a thorough and efficient system of public education, ELC strongly opposes many other provisions of the bill.

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  • The graphs in this analysis were created by the Education Law Center using publicly reported data on public school enrollment demographics. We focused on Pennsylvania’s most heavily-chartered communities — Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chester-Upland, York City, and Erie City — and on students receiving special education services.

    The data demonstrates that, while a number of individual charter schools equitably serve all students, the charter school sector taken as a whole generally underserves these vulnerable student populations. The result is that, with some notable exceptions, these students are often more heavily concentrated in the authorizing school district of residence.

     

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  • ELC’s November 2012 testimony to the Pennsylvania Department of Education on eight cyber charter school applications.

    An excerpt: “The academic performance of the existing cyber charter schools raises serious questions about the ability of such programs to enable students to meet Pennsylvania’s academic standards and this performance should give the Department great pause before authorizing any additional cyber charters.”

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  • The Law Center believes that important reforms are needed for Pennsylvania’s system of charter schools. However, it is important to note that the legislative process for charter school reform has headed down the wrong path.

    (The following analysis highlights proposed changes to the law. These changes were not adopted in 2012 or 2013, but many of them are contained in current charter law proposals before the legislature.)

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  • According to the research findings, students who have access to a quality school library program have an academic advantage over students who did not have such access. This 2012 report, produced by the Education Law Center and the Pennsylvania Association of School Librarians, shows these academic differences are not explained away by the socio-economic, racial/ethnic, or disability status of the students. In fact, the research shows that all students with access to a full-time, certified librarians have higher PSSA Reading and Writing scores than students without that access.

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  • Charter schools are public schools and must follow laws that protect the rights of public school students. Ensuring that charter schools, as well as traditional public schools, provide quality education to all students is an important part of ELC’s mission.

    The following principles, published in 2012, are an outgrowth of ELC’s work with and on behalf of thousands of families throughout Pennsylvania.

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  • In 2009, Stoneleigh Foundation Junior Fellow Arley Styer joined with the Education Law Center to explore the educational experiences of children placed in Pennsylvania group homes and residential treatment facilities. These children, many of whom tend to suffer from behavior disorders, often encounter educational barriers such as lack of needed special education services or too few hours of schooling while in placement.

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  • In this March 2010 report, ELC proposes legal and policy changes that will ensure that alternative programs are adequately supported and monitored; that their services are consistently comparable to those offered to other Pennsylvania students; that students are placed in these programs only when their needs justify the assignment; that the programs operate in a manner that is consistent with applicable federal and state laws; and that, in a number of other respects, programs meet the high standards that the state has set for all of Pennsylvania’s public education programs – and justify the taxpayers’ investment of funds.

     

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Ensuring Equal Access

Fact Sheets

  • April 2017 – A responsible charter school law must empower local governing bodies to strategically control charter growth as a tool to increase quality options and improve our system of public education for all students. The charter school law should not force blind expansion on already burdened systems and compel the loss of neighborhood school options. HB 97 is deficient as it stands. This fact sheet focuses on the key problem areas of this proposed charter reform bill. For ELC’s full response to HB 97, see our letter to the House Education Committee sent on April 24, 2017.

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  • Governor Wolf signed new truancy legislation into law on Thursday, November 3, 2016. Here is an overview of key provisions.

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  • Governor Wolf signed new truancy legislation into law on Thursday, November 3, 2016. This factsheet highlights important provisions of the new law relating to the rights of families, and obligations and roles of schools, courts, and children and youth agencies. Key departures from the prior truancy law are in red.

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  • This fact sheet, updated in March, 2016, covers the basics of school discipline in Pennsylvania. This fact sheet applies to all public schools, including charter schools, in the state.

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  • This fact sheet provides an outline of the rights of English language learners (ELL) and/or families of students with limited English proficiency.

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  • The Education Law Center and Juvenile Law Center have developed a fact sheet to explain important educational decision maker rules, including Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Court Procedural Rules (Rules 1147 and 147) requiring judges to appoint an “Educational Decision Maker” for children who have no parent or guardian to make education decisions for them, or when a court concludes that appointing an EDM is in the best interest of a child.

    In addition, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, school districts have a duty to appoint a “surrogate parent” for children with special education needs under specific circumstances.

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  • A 2014 ELC Fact Sheet providing legal guidance and resource links for questions about opting out of PSSA and Keystone Exams.

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  • This collection of “tools” is intended to help parents and providers ensure school success for children and youth (ages 3-21) in Pennsylvania who are experiencing homelessness. The toolkit provides information about important laws and explains legal rights and how to use them.

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  • This guide provides clearly explained legal rules for special education and early intervention programs in Pennsylvania for children from ages three to 21. 

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  • The Education Law Center’s  guide to the rights of English language learners in Pennsylvania’s public schools outlines basic rights for ELL students and their families. It also provides resource links for additional information.

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  • Youth who are experiencing homelessness have special rights under a federal law called the McKinney-Vento Act. This fact sheet provides information and resources for homeless youth regarding their education rights under that federal law.

     

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  • This step-by-step fact sheet can help older youth enroll themselves in school quickly. It also provides contact information and the necessary forms for school enrollment.

     

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  • La guía es un recurso rápido y fácil a los programas integrales de aprendizaje para la primera infancia en Pennsylvania para padres de niños con retrasos de desarollo o discapacidades. Describe ocho programas diferentes de aprendizaje temprano, incluso Early Head Start y Head Start, Infant and Toddler y Preschool Early Intervention, y Pre-K Counts, y proporciona información para padres sobre desarrollo infantil y cómo indentificar programas de aprendizaje temprano con calidad.

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  • Children who are homeless have special rights which are guaranteed by a federal law called the McKinney-Vento Act. They can usually stay in the same school if they move, they can start school without records, and more.

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  • A child is living with someone other than their parent, has a right to attend public school where he or she lives if certain conditions are met.

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  • ELC’s step-by-step public school enrollment guide.

    Note: A child can be enrolled by a parent, foster parent, guardian, caseworker or anyone having charge or care of the child.

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  • A cyber charter school is a public charter school that provides most of its instruction to its students through the Internet or by some other electronic means. Students who are enrolled in a cyber charter school do most of their schoolwork at home over the computer — they do not go to classes in a school building.

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  • In Pennsylvania, children between the ages of eight and seventeen must attend school. Educating a child at home is one way to comply with compulsory school attendance laws. This fact sheet provides information on homeschooling guidelines in Pennsylvania.

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Ensuring Equal Access

Trainings

Ensuring Equal Access

Professional Toolkits

  • This toolkit, released in October 2016, is designed to help Pennsylvania youth with disabilities who are in the foster care or juvenile justice system to prepare for Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. Although this toolkit is aimed at youth in foster care or the juvenile justice system, who often lack engaged adults to advocate for them at IEP meetings, it can be used by any teenager receiving special education. The toolkit was collaboratively produced by Education Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and Disability Rights Pennsylvania.

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  • This collection of “tools” is intended to help parents and providers ensure school success for children and youth (ages 3-21) in Pennsylvania who are experiencing homelessness. The toolkit provides information about important laws and explains legal rights and how to use them.

    Download PDF

  • The Education Law Center is pleased to announce the publication of the second edition of A Family Guide to Inclusive Early Childhood Learning in Pennsylvania. This project has been supported by a grant from the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council.

    This guide is designed to be a quick and easy resource to inclusive early childhood learning programs in Pennsylvania for parents of children with developmental delays or disabilities.

    Download PDF

  • This 2009 ELC handbook for attorneys and advocates who represent students examines the law on school discipline in Pennsylvania, which derives from the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions; federal and state statutes, regulations, and case law; and policies of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, school districts, and individual schools.

    Download PDF

  • Youth who are adjudicated delinquent frequently encounter problems in obtaining appropriate education services in placement, as well as when they are released and reintegrated into their communities. This 2009 Toolkit from the Education Law Center provides the basic information and resources needed to help juvenile probation officers and other juvenile justice professionals overcome these problems.

    Download PDF