News Room

Feds to Investigate Discrimination in PA’s Alternative Ed Programs

February 21, 2014 – Based on the Education Law Center’s legal complaint, the U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into discriminatory placement of students in Pennsylvania’s Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth programs.

 The Law Center’s August 2013 complaint cites four years worth of Pennsylvania data showing a disproportionately high number of students with disabilities and African American students are removed from traditional public schools and sent to educationally inferior AEDY or similar alternative education programs, often in violation of federal laws.

“We’re pleased the Department of Justice has recognized the importance of this issue,” said Education Law Center Attorney Nancy Potter. “As a result of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s policies and practices, numerous school districts in Pennsylvania are discriminating against students with disabilities and African American students through the misuse of alternative education placements. The disproportionate and frequent placement of students with disabilities and African American students in such disciplinary settings violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act,” said Potter.

The Law Center filed the complaint in response to numerous allegations from parents and students regarding improper placements and poor academic programming in various alternative education programs.

Following the repeated allegations, the Law Center requested and analyzed data from the previous four school years, examining the number of students with disabilities sent to alternative education programs, as well as the number of minority students sent to those programs.

The research shows:

• In public schools in Pennsylvania as a whole, 16 percent of students are identified as students with disabilities. However, in recent years, even as the total number of alternative placements has dropped, the percentage of students with disabilities sent to alternative education programs has increased to 44 percent.

• 82 school districts in 2010-11 where more than 50 percent of the students sent to alternative education programs were students with disabilities.

• African American students are similarly overrepresented in alternative education placements. While African American students comprise only 15 percent of Pennsylvania public school students, in 2010-11 they comprised 35 percent of the students placed into alternative education programs.

• 45 school districts in 2010-11 that had a disparity of 20 percentage points or more between the percent of African Americans in the district and the percent of African Americans placed in the districts’ alternative education programs.

• 24 districts had disparities of 20 percentage points or higher for both African American students and students with disabilities.

“This data and the experiences of our clients suggest that PDE is failing its responsibility to ensure that students with disabilities and African American students are not being placed in separate and stigmatizing settings at a disproportionate rate,” said Potter. “At the same time, PDE must ensure that these schools are not being used as dumping grounds and that students who are appropriately placed in these schools are receiving the proper educational services to which they’re entitled.”

The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice enforces federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, religion, familial status and national origin.


Brett Schaeffer
Education Law Center
[email protected]
mobile: 215-519-6522
office: 215-238-6970 ext. 334