News Room

OP-ED: Speaking up for parents and vulnerable students in York City

Jan. 13, 2015 – By Maura McInerney, Education Law Center – In two years since being appointed Chief Recovery Officer for the York City School District, David Meckley has produced nothing more than an ill-conceived privatization scheme to convert the 7,500-student school district into charter schools run by the for-profit company, Charter Schools USA.

This massive overhaul of an entire public school district is unprecedented in Pennsylvania, and there is little data anywhere to support its promised success. Perhaps most alarming is the failure to consider how the schools will serve students with serious educational needs, particularly those with disabilities.

When asked what would occur if a parent of a student with a disability exercised his or her right to choose an option other than a charter school out-sourced to Charter Schools USA, Mr. Meckley reportedly testified, “The plan calls for sending those children to cyber charter schools, in which the child works on a laptop computer from home.” And when asked what would happen if a student could not read and was unable to participate in a cyber program, Mr. Meckley had no answer. The recovery plan contains no mention of how students with disabilities will be served and protected.

It’s disheartening to realize that, after two years of work, this fundamental issue has not been given any thought.

If Mr. Meckley had thought it through, perhaps he would have acknowledged the right of these students to have individualized placement decisions based on their specific needs through a legal process informed by parent input — one that ensures that all students with disabilities are educated in the least restrictive environment with non-disabled peers. The one-size-fits-all cyber program option articulated by Mr. Meckley would, of course, violate federal and state law.

Perhaps, if he had thought it through, Mr. Meckley would have addressed the legal concerns that have played out in cities like New Orleans, where a lawsuit challenging the failure to provide students with disabilities with equal educational access has recently resulted in a settlement agreement requiring ongoing monitoring and court oversight.

Perhaps he would have considered the fact that Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools are among the lowest performing schools in the state. And perhaps he would have considered that the intent of Pennsylvania’s charter school law is to create additional choices to our school district schools, not to eliminate choices. Eliminating district schools and replacing them with a single, private operator actually reduces school choices for parents and students.

The failure to consider these issues should set off alarm bells for public officials because the laws are clear.

If the history of how private, for-profit school operators handle access and services for students with disabilities is any indication, then it’s likely the state and the private operator in York City will be spending a lot of time in state and federal court.

No one wants that. Certainly not the students or their families. They want what all of the families and students in York City want: a quality public education that prepares students for success in the classroom and beyond.

It’s time to put the privatization plan on the shelf until a thoughtful, fully developed — and legally appropriate — plan for all of York City’s students is created. That’s what each one of the more than 1,300 students who are eligible for special education services in the York City School District deserves.

Maura McInerney is a senior staff attorney at the Education Law Center, a statewide, nonprofit legal advocacy organization. The Education Law Center, along with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Arc of Pennsylvania and the York Chapter of the NAACP urging the court to deny appointment of a receiver due to its impact on students with disabilities.

This Op-Ed appeared in the January 8, 2015 edition of the York Dispatch. Read it on the paper’s website.