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ELC Files Complaint Challenging Lack of Education at Allegheny County Jail

December 21, 2023 – A state administrative complaint filed today by the Education Law Center claims that school-age youths with disabilities at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) are not receiving a free appropriate public education in contravention of their rights.

Allegheny County Jail serves approximately 2,000 individuals each day who are awaiting adjudication of charges imposed against them. On any given day, this population includes 20-35 youths aged 15-17 and many more youths aged 18-21 years old – all of whom are entitled to a public education. A disproportionate number of these youths are likely students with disabilities who are entitled to receive a “free appropriate public education.” According to the National Disability Rights Network, young people with disabilities make up at least two-thirds of those involved in the juvenile justice system.

The complaint identifies Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) as the host district for students at ACJ responsible for providing educational services to school-age youths. PPS contracts with Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU), which manages the school program at the jail.

“ELC filed this complaint to remedy systemic policies and practices that deprive students with disabilities of their right to a free appropriate public education. These policies clearly and unequivocally violate the federal and state disability laws and, due to systemic racism, disproportionately impact Black and Brown students who are victimized most by the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Maura McInerney, legal director at Education Law Center-PA.

According to the complaint, students aged 18 years and older are denied access to the on-grounds school program. Instead, upon turning 18, these students may be offered self-guided study packets to be used completely on their own with access to a teacher once a week; or they are offered a GED program.

“Students who do not have many high school credits are urged to ‘sign themselves out’ of high school and take the GED, regardless of their disability or need for support,” said McInerney. “In one case, a 19-year-old student with significant disabilities received no education at all during his time at ACJ from March to November 2023.”

“Youths in the juvenile justice system or who are placed in adult jails like Allegheny County cannot be deprived of their right to an education, yet that is precisely what is happening here, and it must be remedied,”  McInerney said.

See the complaint.