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PHILADELPHIA, PA (July 27) Yesterday, the Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) filed a Complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) alleging a systemic failure by the School District of Philadelphia (“District”) to promptly and appropriately address pervasive and severe bullying of students with disabilities.
“Sadly, students with disabilities are far more likely to experience bullying in school than their non-disabled peers,” said Alex Dutton, Independence Fellow at the Education Law Center. “Under federal law, these students are entitled to an educational program that enables them to make meaningful progress in school. Bullying of a student with a disability on any basis may interfere with this critical right, and school districts must promptly and appropriately address it.”
“The District’s failure to address bullying denies students with disabilities access to equal educational opportunities and is therefore discriminatory,” said ELC Senior Attorney Maura McInerney.
The Complaint alleges that in some cases, the District failed to respond to parents’ complaints about bullying for months and even years.
In one case, a third-grade child with disabilities was kicked and punched by classmates, causing a concussion, and repeatedly called derogatory names like “retard” and “dumb.”
Another nine-year-old child was repeatedly called “idiot” and “stupid” by her classmates, who told her they hoped she never came back to class.
The Complaint details how children who once loved school cried, shook, and begged not to go to school following months of pervasive bullying. Some of these parents asked the District to transfer their children to new schools, away from the bullying, but the District refused.
“What we see is that parents, having tried for months to get the District to do something, make the rational choice to keep their children home on days when they are demonstrating extreme aversion to school,” Dutton said. “Rather than intervene in accordance with federal anti-discrimination laws, the District’s response was to refer these families to Truancy Court, where the problem is framed as a failure of the family. This is not only discriminatory, it erodes any semblance of trust between District staff and the families they serve.”
Attorneys for the parents hope that the Complaint will result in the implementation of new District policies and training to ensure school staff promptly and properly intervene to resolve bullying of students with disabilities in an appropriate, non-discriminatory manner. ELC is also seeking individual relief for the named students.
The students in this Complaint are represented by ELC attorneys Alex Dutton and Maura McInerney. More information about the case and a link to download a copy of the Complaint are here.
The Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) is a non-profit, legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education. Through legal representation, impact litigation, trainings, and policy advocacy, ELC advances the rights of vulnerable children, including children living in poverty, children of color, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, children with disabilities, English language learners, LGBTQ/NGC students, and children experiencing homelessness. For more information visit https://elc-pa.org/ or follow on Twitter @edlawcenterpa.
“We are the counter force: Four public interest lawyers on fighting racial injustice.” An article by Education Law Center’s Deborah Gordon Klehr, Juvenile Law Center’s Sue Vivian Mangold, Defender Association of Philadelphia’s Keir Bradford-Grey, and Community Legal Services’ Debby Freedman on fighting racial injustice.
We stand with the school children we serve to condemn the bigotry, hate, and violence of white supremacists in Charlottesville. We are deeply saddened and outraged by these tragic events and know that the racism we witnessed in Virginia exists in other communities across our country. We cannot and will not tolerate it.
We are reminded that no person is born to hate — it is something that is taught. ELC pledges its commitment to call out and confront the growing racism and bigotry we are seeing in our schools: from the harassment of students based on race and religion, to the disproportionate suspension and expulsion of children of color and children with disabilities. We pledge to fight discrimination, to be a catalyst for promoting respect and tolerance, and to be a champion for true inclusion. We commit to continuing our work to end discriminatory practices in enrollment and learning opportunities, end gross racial disparities in school funding, and dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.
America is better than this. We are better than this. We stand with parents, teachers, youth, community partners, and other civil rights advocates who are working tirelessly every day to condemn and combat racism and ensure that our children learn the power of diversity, equality, and true democracy.
Thank you for your partnership in this important work.
Deborah Gordon Klehr
ELC filed an administrative complaint with the PA Department of Education (“PDE”) on behalf of three individual children and all others similarly situated who have been deprived of smooth transitions to kindergarten or first grade in the School District of Philadelphia (“District”). State and federal law mandates that children with disabilities must move from early intervention services to elementary school without disruption of the critical special education services to which they are legally entitled. However, the District has failed to meet these requirements and ELC has asked PDE’s Bureau of Special Education to investigate and issue corrective action as necessary. Specifically, the District is required to (1) complete a re-evaluation of a child’s eligibility for services within 60 days of receiving signed parental consent, (2) provide a Re-evaluation Report to the parent at least 10 days prior to an IEP meeting, and (3) ensure that an IEP is completed within the 30 days of the IEP meeting. Additionally, federal law requires that children who have limited English proficiency are evaluated in their native language to ensure an accurate re-evaluation. If you or any families you know have had similar issues transitioning from early intervention to the District, please contact Sean McGrath at [email protected]. You can read a copy of ELC’s Complaint here.