School District of Philadelphia Ordered to Award Compensatory Education Services to Tens of Thousands of Students with Disabilities to Address COVID-Related Deprivations of FAPE

As a result of a complaint filed by ELC on behalf of all children with disabilities in the School District of Philadelphia (District), PDE’s Bureau of Special Education has ordered the District to review and assess data for all students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and Section 504 accommodations plans to determine necessary make-up services, or compensatory education, owed for deprivations of a free, appropriate public education stemming from COVID school closures. Both PDE and the U.S. Department of Education have made clear that when schools closed, school districts were required to provide compensatory education for denials of the educational rights of students with disabilities.  Following an investigation that spanned multiple months, PDE issued two Complaint Investigation Reports (IEP and 504) finding that the District did not provide these necessary make-up services or make required determinations for all students with disabilities. In the coming months, the District must convene IEP and Section 504 teams for more than 20,000 students with disabilities to determine the make-up services necessary to address educational deprivations stemming from the COVID closures. By September 29, the District must provide a summary of the IEP and 504 meetings and the determinations made to remedy FAPE during the pandemic. If you believe that your child is eligible for these make-up services, contact your child’s school or ELC’s Helpline for more information.

Notably, Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) is currently implementing “COVID Compensatory Services 2.0” to ensure that their students receive the make-up services to which they are legally entitled.  You can learn more this ongoing effort at including a helpful Parent Pre-Meeting Planning Checklist.   

Resources for Inclusive Schools and Honest Education

Welcoming and inclusive schools that provide honest, accurate information to our children give them the freedom to pursue their dreams and prepare them to fully participate in a diverse society.

Today there are organized national and local efforts targeting Black, Brown and LGBTQ students, erasing those populations from the curriculum and programs. These efforts threaten to undermine public schools by inflaming and dividing parents. They are banning books, banning the teaching of accurate history, and threatening teachers with lawsuits. They are trying to silence the voices of LGBTQ families and people of color. These actions are happening at school boards and in the state legislature.

Parents, students, faith leaders, business leaders, and community members working together can protect our schools, support student learning, and fight against these actions. We must make our voices heard.

ELC produces information and materials for parents, students, and community members to use as resources and samples in their advocacy efforts. Find them here.

ELC Comments on Title IX Proposed Rules – Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex

Education Law Center has submitted comments in response to the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed rules on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. ELC’s concerns focus on the impact of the proposed amended regulations on students in Pennsylvania’s publicly-funded PreK-12 schools, including Black girls, who are more likely to be subject to sexual harassment and to be stereotyped and
disciplined for defending themselves against such harassment in school.

While we celebrate the progress that has been made in the 50 years since Title IX was passed, sex-based harassment and discrimination remains a very significant problem in preK-12 schools in Pennsylvania and across the country. Sexual harassment in K-12 schools is understudied, but nearly half of students experience sexual harassment at school, and 87% of those students said that the harassment had a negative effect on them.” In particular, Black girls are often ignored or punished when they complain to their schools about sex-based harassment and discrimination, which reinforces the under-reporting of these incidents.

Read ELC’s comments here.

Our 2022 Back-to-School Guide for Students and Families is Now Available

September 1, 2022 – The Education Law Center’s 2022 Back-to-School guide is now online with a comprehensive set of publications on more than a dozen education topics. Please check it out.

boy in front of blackboard that says 2022 back to school guide for pa public school students and parents

Every year, the Education Law Center updates and expands its collection of fact sheets and other publications written to help families, students and child-serving professionals and to support efforts to make our schools equitable and affirming, and free from discrimination and racism.

A table of contents points you to resources and rights-based information on a wide range of subjects, from early education to planning for graduation, with a focus on what’s new and what you need to know for back-to-school.

You can access the guide here. Please explore and share these resources!

Law Centers’ Joint Statement on 2022-23 State Budget

Legislative leaders announced an agreement on July 7, 2022, on the 2022-23 state budget, including a $525 million increase in state funding for basic education, $225 million for a Level Up supplement to the 100 most deeply underfunded school districts, a $100 million increase in special education funding, and $200 million in grants to school districts for mental health and school safety.

Attorneys from Education Law Center-PA and the Public Interest Law Center, representing school districts, parents, and organizations in a case challenging Pennsylvania’s system for funding public schools, released a joint statement, calling the increased education funding “an important step to start closing funding gaps,” but noting that “it does not ensure that students in every community can receive the high-quality education they’re entitled to under the state Constitution.”

Read the statement here.

ELC Open Letter to Hempfield School Board Calls for Rejection of Prohibition on Trans Athletes

Responding to to concerns from parents and community members in Hempfield (Pa.) School District, ELC sent this open letter that urges opposition to proposed prohibitions on transgender students’ participation in school sports. We call for the school board and district to reject the proposed policy because it illegally discriminates against transgender students. We urge the board to instead undertake its duty to affirmatively protect the rights of LGBTQ students. Read the open letter here.

U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in Carson v. Makin Has Alarming Implications for PA

The June 21, 2022, U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin mandates that Maine use its public school funds to educate children in private religious schools. Never before has the Supreme Court forced a state to fund religious education. The ruling is antithetical to our country’s history and its long-held commitment to a separation between church and state embedded in our federal and state constitutions. It also has important and potentially devasting implications for Pennsylvania’s students.

Pennsylvania’s public schools serve the vast majority of the Commonwealth’s children. Public schools, unlike private religious schools, are prohibited from excluding children or discriminating against students and they are also held accountable for their use of public funds. While tax credits in Pennsylvania are permitted to be used to support private religious schools, public school funds are not, and this is prohibited by our state Constitution. The Supreme Court ruling is a threat to that public school system in many ways. Read more.

We Must Address Racist Violence, School Shootings [Trigger Warning: Gun Violence]

We join in grieving for all the victims of the deadly racist attacks in Buffalo that targeted the city’s Black East Side community. We vow to continue to challenge racist ideologies that motivate these hate-filled attacks.

We also join in mourning the senseless violence in Uvalde, Texas, resulting in the death of at least 19 children and 2 adults at Robb Elementary School. We vow to continue to do our part to seek to stop gun violence and the toll it continues to take in our schools and in our communities. The time for systemic and broad reform is now.

Schools play a critical role in helping students learn how to relate to one another and appreciate our common humanity.  Teachers are talking with students about how to respond to events like the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings. It is vital that these classroom conversations be framed with values of justice, anti-racism, and respect for groups that have been marginalized. In the current, politically polarized climate that grants legitimacy to racist views that have no place, we must counter these violent, hate-filled attacks and recognize their connection to broader challenges to school district curriculum and attempts to prohibit teaching truth about racism and oppression.

Moreover, we know that adding more police into schools will not make our schools safer. Schools must be nurturing places of learning for all students. Our leaders owe it to children across the country to work harder to ensure our schools can be just that. Our students need trauma-informed and culturally affirming supports and restorative approaches in schools.

We continue to be alarmed by ill-informed responses to school shootings that result in an increase in police presence in schools or calls to make our schools look and feel more like prisons. Recent history has taught us this does not prevent horrific school shootings but leads to an uptick in arrests for low-level offenses, disproportionately impacting Black and Brown students and students with disabilities. The time for action by all of us is now. We need effective community-based solutions to support and heal our school communities; police are not the answer.

We mourn for the families in Buffalo, Uvalde, and all over our nation grappling with unimaginable loss as we challenge our leaders to address the root causes of gun violence and racism exemplified by these most recent devastating incidents.

Read ELC’s New Special Education Funding Report

The Education Law Center’s new report Fixing the Special Education Funding Gap details the large decline in the state share of special education funding over the past decade. Inadequate funding for basic education and special education programs creates a dual funding gap, one that particularly affects students in low wealth school districts. These districts serve most of Pennsylvania’s Black and Brown students who are disproportionately impacted by the state’s underfunding of public education.  

Read the report here

Find data for each of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts here

Read the press release here.  

View a recording of the press conference here

Join ELC in support of the RISE Act

ELC has long supported Respond, Innovate, Succeed, and Empower (RISE) Act  – a federal bill which would allow students with disabilities to present an IEP or 504 plan as proof of a disability when requesting accommodations in college.  The bill is now in the House Education and Labor’s Mental Health Package (see H.R. 7780) and will be marked up tomorrow! We urge you to support the RISE Actwhich would ensure that students with disabilities receive the accommodations they need to succeed in college! 

On school funding, Pennsylvania is not doing its job. That’s why we’re in court.

Education Law Center executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr wrote, “All Pennsylvanians need to know that our state is failing by inadequately and inequitably funding our schools. Pennsylvania once made a legislative commitment that 50% of education funding would come from the state ‒ but that commitment was not enforced and was abandoned decades ago.” Read her full op-ed published in Pennlive on November 5, 2021.

Learn more about our case here.

Gov. Wolf Signs Credit Transfer Bill

Students facing some of the greatest barriers to timely high school graduation finally get some relief. On January 26, Governor Wolf signed SB 324 into law as Act 1 of 2022, bringing a successful conclusion to a 10-year effort. The law requires school districts to provide one-on-one assistance to students who are at risk of losing course credits as a result of foster care or juvenile justice placements or who experience homelessness. Join us in celebrating this important victory!

Pa. lawmakers have neglected their duty to quality education across the state

ELC’s executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr wrote:

“For decades, Pennsylvania lawmakers have shunned their responsibilities when it comes to school funding, severely shortchanging many school districts. The result is grave inequities that have impacted generations of students.

In a trial that begins on Nov. 12, a group of petitioners is challenging the state funding system in Commonwealth Court.” Read more here.

5 takeaways from Pennsylvania’s ongoing, landmark school-funding trial after one month

“Over more than four weeks of testimony, the landmark trial in the challenge to Pennsylvania’s school-funding system has featured superintendents and teachers from rural, urban, and suburban communities describing cash-strapped schools — including Delaware County’s William Penn district — that struggle to meet state academic standards.” Read this recap from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s education reporters.

Pa. school funding case update

An episode of Smart Talk from WITF (Harrisburg) reviews the status of the school funding court case with guests Mallory Falk, WHYY Philadelphia education reporter; Brenda Marrero, executive director, Public Interest Law Center; and Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director, Education Law Center – PA.

“Storage Closets and Locker Rooms Being Used as Classrooms”

Testimony in the Pennsylvania public education funding lawsuit highlighted serious issues facing schools around the Commonwealth. “Witnesses painted a grim picture of what a normal school day looks like for many students throughout Pennsylvania, and how the COVID-19 pandemic made things worse.” Issues dealing with infrastructure like classroom space and capacity, ventilation systems, and more were detailed. Read and watch this report from WENY (Erie).