PDE Orders Philadelphia School District to Create New System to Protect Students with Disabilities Experiencing Homelessness

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE November 30, 2018 Contact: Paul Socolar, Education Law Center, 215-906-1250, [email protected]
PDE Orders Philadelphia School District to Create New System to Protect Students with Disabilities Experiencing Homelessness

Philadelphia – ELC has secured an important victory for unaccompanied students with disabilities experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia and statewide. As a result of a complaint filed by ELC with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), these vulnerable students living on their own will have surrogate parents promptly appointed to enforce their rights in the special education system. Absent the prompt appointment of a surrogate parent, unaccompanied students under age 21 are unable to enforce their legal rights, leaving them without a mechanism to get the services they need in school. Federal law requires school districts to appoint surrogate parents within 30 days to represent unaccompanied students throughout the special education process. It also permits school districts to authorize shelter staff to serve as temporary surrogate parents until a permanent surrogate parent can be appointed. Through our partnerships with shelter providers, ELC learned of two unaccompanied students with disabilities in the School District of Philadelphia who were not assigned surrogate parents. Both suffered severe educational consequences: one student was pushed through to graduation and forced to forfeit future educational rights; the other student languished in a life-skills classroom that could not meet her needs. In response to ELC’s complaint, a state investigation revealed that both students’ rights were violated and that the District did not have an adequate system to track and assign surrogate parents. Alarmingly, it also found that the District had only assigned two surrogate parents across the District during the previous school year for all children in foster care or experiencing homelessness. In a November 8 Complaint Investigation Report, PDE’s Bureau of Special Education ordered the district to design a new system to ensure surrogate parents are appointed promptly. It also ordered PDE to issue specific guidance to all school districts about their legal obligations to assign surrogate parents. For both named students, the Bureau ordered the immediate assignment of surrogate parents and awarded compensatory education services. “The state’s action in this matter represents vital progress for unaccompanied youth with disabilities, who will now have a system that identifies and serves them,” said Paige Joki, Independence Foundation Public Interest Law Fellow at the Education Law Center. “As our clients’ cases illustrate, youth who on their own risk being pushed to graduate or being deprived of services they desperately need to succeed in life.” During the 2016-17 school year, over 4,000 students statewide were unaccompanied.

# The Education Law Center-PA (ELC) is a nonprofit, legal advocacy organization with offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, 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 learners, LGBTQ students, and children experiencing homelessness. For more information, visit elc-pa.org or follow on Twitter @edlawcenterpa.

Testimony: Philadelphia City Council Hearing on the Philadelphia School District and Board of Education

At the first Philadelphia City Council hearing since schools came under the tenure of the city’s new board of education, ELC policy director Reynelle Brown Staley gave testimony on November 27, highlighting the centrality of resource issues for the school district. “The fact that Philadelphia schools simply don’t have enough resources is in part a Harrisburg problem, but it’s one that we locally can play a bigger role in affecting,” she said.

Staley noted that meeting the educational needs of the district’s most underserved students – including English learners and pregnant and parenting teens – will require “significant funding commitments from the Mayor and Council as well as policy and practice changes within the district.”

Read our testimony.

Please support the Education Law Center on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023!

ELC works every day to ensure access to education for all children, including students living in poverty, students of color, students with disabilities, students in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, multilingual learners, LGBTQ youth, and students experiencing homelessness.

Our work is made possible by generous contributions from individuals like you. Giving Tuesday 2023 kicks off our year-end fund drive.

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We encourage you to give as generously as you can.

And thank you for making your tax-deductible donation to ELC on Giving Tuesday, so we can help more children receive the education they need, deserve, and are legally entitled to receive.

Education Law Center Names New Policy Director

November 19, 2018
Contact: Paul Socolar, Education Law Center, 215-906-1250, [email protected]


Education Law Center Names New Policy Director

Philadelphia – The board and staff of the Education Law Center-PA are thrilled to announce that Reynelle Brown Staley, Esq., has been named ELC’s policy director.

“Since joining ELC’s staff in August 2017, Reynelle has been an essential member of our team, thoughtfully, strategically, and effectively carrying forth our mission through policy advocacy,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, ELC’s executive director. Continue reading

ELC and CASA Philadelphia Webinar for Educational Decision Makers (EDMs)

This webinar was hosted by the Education Law Center-PA and CASA Philadelphia as a training for court-appointed Educational Decision Makers (EDMs) who represent children in foster care to ensure their access to a quality public education. The presentation features an overview of an “EDM Toolkit” prepared by these agencies and includes education issues relating to enrollment, access to special education services, and school discipline.  The Toolkit helps Pennsylvania CASA programs train CASAs to serve as EDM volunteers and serves as an ongoing resource for EDMs to address questions and challenges that encounter in meeting the needs of children in foster care. The Toolkit includes checklists, suggestions, and resources to help EDMs ensure that students who are in foster care have school stability, access to needed services, and achieve academic success.

Click here for the toolkit, here to view the webinar PowerPoint slides, and here to stream a recording of the webinar.

ELC Joins Civil Rights Organizations in Issuing New Report Challenging Curtailment of Important Protections for Children of Color

ELC joined more than a dozen other civil rights organizations in releasing a new report highlighting the ways the Trump Administration is aggressively and intentionally limiting the civil rights protections of children and youth of color in schools. The Report was prepared by the Civil Rights Roundtable, a national coalition of organizations and academic professionals who are experts in the fields of school discipline, civil rights, and disability law. The Report analyzes recent changes in policies, regulations, and enforcement agency action which significantly impact children and youth of color, including reductions in Office of Civil Rights investigations of systemic claims, the proposed rescission of the Title VI discipline guidance, and delay and potential rescission of racial disproportionality regulations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These changes threaten to have a devastating impact on a generation of children and youth of color who are already disproportionately excluded from the classroom. The Report demonstrates that the policy, regulatory, and guidance revisions undertaken by the Trump Administration surpass the ordinary actions of a new administration and should be recognized as an intentional and substantial threat to decades of civil rights protections. The Report highlights a series of important recommendations to change this trajectory. Read the report here.