Class Action Suit Against Glen Mills Schools and Pa. Officials Cites Abuse of Children, Deprivation of Education

Lawyers from the Education Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and Dechert LLP filed a class action lawsuit April 11 in Philadelphia on behalf of hundreds of youth who were held at Glen Mills Schools, a residential facility located in Delaware County. This site, the oldest reform school in the country, housed as many as 1,000 boys from all over the country – and the world – at one time. After an emergency removal order of all remaining children at the facility as well as the revocation of its licenses by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, it is currently empty; these actions followed groundbreaking investigative reporting by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Lisa Gartner.

The legal team from Education Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and Dechert LLP

The suit maintains that these youth housed at Glen Mills suffered at the hands of Glen Mills leadership and staff. Instead of receiving treatment and services, as required by the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act, plaintiffs claim that they were subjected to extreme and sustained physical and psychological abuse and deprived of an education. The abuse had a particularly dire impact on youth of color – the vast majority of Glen Mills youth were African American – as well as students with special education needs and disabilities, whose educational and other rights were ignored.

The suit asserts that officials at the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Chester County Intermediate Unit allowed Glen Mills’ education program to operate in the shadows without any oversight or monitoring to ensure the educational rights of students. The suit also maintains that the persistent and barbaric abuse went unchecked due to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services “callous disregard for the safety and well-being of the children in its care.” PA-DHS is the body responsible for the licensing, oversight and regulation of child residential facilities in the Commonwealth.

Plaintiffs seek damages as well as other equitable relief for violations of their rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act,  and state common law claims.

Read our press release here.

Read our complaint here.

Read press coverage of the lawsuit here, here, and here.


Our Report Highlights Civil Rights Concerns in Philadelphia Charter Schools

A new report by the Education Law Center, citing widespread noncompliance by charter schools with civil rights protections for students, urges Philadelphia’s Board of Education to monitor the city’s charter sector more closely and guard against discriminatory enrollment and educational practices.

The new study, “Safeguarding Educational Equity: Protecting Philadelphia Students’ Civil Rights Through Charter Oversight,” highlights data about the student population at charter schools and information compiled by the Charter School Office regarding compliance with certain measures designed to protect the rights of historically marginalized student groups, such as students with disabilities, English learners, and students of color.

ELC’s analysis focuses on the city’s “traditional charters” – excluding cyber schools and charter schools that are converted former district neighborhood schools. The report provides strong evidence that these traditional charter schools are not sharing equitably in the responsibility of educating all Philadelphia students. ELC’s analysis found that the demographic makeup of students in traditional charters in Philadelphia is strikingly different from the population in District schools in four key respects:

  • The population of economically disadvantaged students is 14 percentage points lower in the traditional charter sector (56%) vs. the district sector (70%).
  • The percentage of English learners in District schools (11%) is nearly three times higher than in traditional charters (4%), with three in ten charters having no English learners at all.
  • Few of the special education students in traditional charters are from the low-incidence disability categories, such as autism and intellectual disability, that typically are most expensive to serve.
  • The vast majority of traditional charter schools serve student populations that are two-thirds or more of one racial group – a significantly higher degree of segregation than is found in District schools.

The report contends that many of these demographic differences are a result of charter school practices. The School District’s own charter school evaluations frequently flag areas where charters fail to comply with laws or policies protecting students’ civil rights. However, enforcement is lacking. The School District’s scoring system used to evaluate charters permits a charter school to earn a renewal even if it has failing scores in the English learner, special education, and enrollment categories.

Charter schools are not serving a comparable population to district schools, which raises doubts about any claims that traditional charter schools outperform district schools. The concentration of more advantaged students in traditional charter schools and more disadvantaged students in district schools is unfair to all students and is a trend that cannot be allowed to continue.

The report was requested by the Student Achievement and Support Committee of the Philadelphia Board of Education after ELC raised concerns about inequities in charter schools in testimony last fall. While ELC and other civil rights advocates have raised concerns about the state charter school law, the report points out the need and possibility under existent laws for stronger charter school accountability measures at the local level.

The report spells out recommendations for action by the Board in its role of authorizing and renewing charter schools, including looking beyond academic and financial performance to also focus on issues of equity, changing the performance framework used to evaluate charters so that equity issues are prioritized, and expanding the capacity of the Charter School Office to provide adequate oversight.

The report is available here.

ELC Responds to 2019-20 Budget Proposal of Gov. Wolf

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced his proposed 2019-20 budget before the General Assembly on Feb. 5. The Education Law Center and other child advocacy groups had urged the governor to make a bold school funding proposal, including $400 million in new funds for basic education and $100 million for special education. The increases in is K-12 spending plan, which will be debated by the legislature over the next few months, were roughly half of what advocates had called for, though the governor did also propose significant increases in funding for pre-K and early intervention.

ELC issued a statement on the budget proposal, urging Harrisburg officials “to do more to accelerate state aid to the state’s most disadvantaged school districts.” The statewide PA Schools Work coalition, of which ELC is a member, also published a statement raising many of the same themes.

Youth in Pa. Residential Institutions: Unsafe, Disconnected, Denied Quality Education

This column by ELC legal director Maura McInerney and Juvenile Law Center staff attorney Kate Burdick highlights the urgent need to address harmful practices in Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice and child welfare residential facilities. Two recent reports laid out the harm being done to children in these placements – and proposed needed reforms, including bringing children back to their communities. The column was published by WHYY.

Improving Supports for Philadelphia’s 15,000 English Learner Students

In January 2019 testimony about English learners to the Philadelphia school board’s Student Achievement and Support Committee, Education Law Center Legal Director Maura McInerney brought attention to reductions in ESL instruction and support, barriers to special education evaluations and services, the failure to provide interpretation and translation services, and lack of access to special admission schools and post-secondary college and career readiness support. Read her testimony here.

ELC also joined with partners to submit a formal letter to the committee requesting a separate hearing focused exclusively on EL students. Read the letter here.

ELC Calls on Gov. Wolf to Propose Major Increase in Special Ed Funding

Following on our October report, “Shortchanging Children with Disabilities: State Underfunding of Special Education in Pennsylvania,” the Education Law Center wrote Gov. Tom Wolf in January, urging that his 2019-20 budget proposal include a $400 million increase in state funding for basic education and a $100 million increase in special education funding, to be distributed to districts through the existing funding formulas. Read our letter, press release, and news coverage.

Response to Rescission of Federal School Discipline Guidance and to School Safety Recommendations

The widespread problem of racial discrimination in school discipline is well documented. The 2014 federal discipline guidance from the Obama administration formally recognized that for the first time and challenged exclusionary discipline practices that disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities. A December 18, 2018, report from the Federal Commission on School Safety, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has called for rescinding those guidelines. ELC’s statement in response said that a decision to rescind the federal guidance as recommended is bound to allow discriminatory practices in schools to proliferate.

Three days later, on December 21, the federal government proceeded to rescind the guidance, despite widespread opposition. ELC’s statement in response is here.

ELC Stands with Tamaqua Area School District Educators Opposed to Arming School Personnel

The Education Law Center-PA stands with the Tamaqua Area Education Association and many in the Tamaqua school community in eastern Pennsylvania in opposing their school district’s new policy allowing teachers and administrators to carry guns. ELC joined three other organizations in the filing of an amicus brief December 21, 2018, in support of the education association’s lawsuit to block this illegal and dangerous policy. Read about the brief here.

The presence of guns in schools and arming of untrained school staff pose significant safety risks to schoolchildren and communities and are not authorized by state law.  See the ELC statement on the new policy.

Trial in Pa. School Funding Lawsuit Scheduled for Summer 2020

In a breakthrough for efforts to fix Pa.’s broken school funding system, Commonwealth Court
has set a schedule for hearing the facts in William Penn et al. v. PA Dept. of Ed. et al.

December 6, 2018 – Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court released on Thursday a briefing and trial scheduling order in the lawsuit challenging the state’s school funding system. The trial is tentatively set to begin in summer 2020. Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer issued the order and will oversee the pre-trial proceedings.
Continue reading

Fair Funding Lawsuit Goes to Trial Nov. 12, 2021

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has scheduled our historic fair funding lawsuit for trial with a start date of Nov. 12, 2021

All children in PA have the right to a high-quality public education. This isn’t just an opinion – it’s the law, written into the state constitution in the 1870s. But in PA, not every child gets the resources they need.

By failing to provide enough state funding, our leaders in Harrisburg have created a school funding system where the students who need the most get the least, simply because of where they live. Our leaders are severely shortchanging students in low-wealth school districts across the state, including where most of our Black and Brown students live. 

It’s wrong, it’s unconstitutional and our leaders in Harrisburg are responsible. That’s why we’ve taken the state to court.

We filed our lawsuit in November 2014, challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s inadequate, inequitable school funding system. (Here is a short summary.) Seven years later, that case – filed on behalf of six school districts, two statewide associations, and several parents – is headed to trial.

Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer has been overseeing the pre-trial proceedings and will preside over the trial, which is expected to continue through the fall and into January.

The trial will take place in the Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg and will be livestreamed (link to be posted here as soon as it is available).

Read more about the case here is a website devoted to the lawsuit jointly produced by the Education Law Center and our co-counsel, the Public Interest Law Center. It will be updated with daily highlights during the trial.

A chronology of the case and relevant court documents are on the Cases page of our website.

Continue reading

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.

Support the Education Law Center on Giving Tuesday!

ELC works 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, English learners, LGBTQ youth, and students experiencing homelessness.

Please click here to donate via Facebook – and give generously!

Or contribute via our donation page.

Facebook is donating $7 million by matching the first $2 million in donations dollar for dollar and then matching 10% of the next $50 million.  The match starts at 8 am Eastern time on Giving Tuesday.

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

Editorial: New school year, old funding problem

An editorial in the Delaware County Daily Times says that it is time to fix the problems of inadequacy and inequity in school funding that led the William Penn School District and other districts, organizations and families to mount a court challenge to the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s school funding system. Continue reading

Extra info can help some gain admission

The LeGare process, established through a case filed by ELC, is intended to provide an equal opportunity for Philadelphia special education and English-learner students to get accepted to the city’s selective public high schools. Alyssa Biederman of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook explains the process. Read more here.

School funding lawsuit can proceed, judge rules

The landmark Pennsylvania education funding lawsuit filed by ELC and its partners can proceed, a Commonwealth Court judge ruled, as reported by Dale Mezzacappa of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook. The judge rejected the argument made by Republican legislative leaders that it has been rendered moot and should be dismissed. Read more here.

In New School Funding Lawsuit Filing, Gov. Wolf Says More Funds Are Needed

In our ongoing legal challenge to the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s school funding system, we filed a brief in Commonwealth Court in July, rebutting Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati’s claim that the adoption of a school funding formula in 2016 renders the case moot. In briefs filed August 3, Gov. Tom Wolf also rejected the mootness claim, saying that funding issues persist, while Sen. Scarnati While Sen. Scarnati and Rep. Michael Turzai continue to seek dismissal based on mootness, they fail to dispute in any way the growing disparities between high-wealth and low-wealth districts. Read more in this August 7, 2018, News Release.