PDE Bureau of Special Education Orders Reforms to Philadelphia SD Special Education Evaluation Process

In response to a state administrative complaint, ELC received a decision that will lead to systemic changes affecting thousands of children suspected of having disabilities in Philadelphia. After hearing increasing concerns regarding excessive delays in evaluating children suspected of needing special education services, ELC filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Bureau of Special Education (BSE) on behalf of 12 individual students and hundreds of similarly situated students who were denied timely evaluations.

BSE found that the School District of Philadelphia was not properly identifying and referring many children in need of special education evaluations. Even when children were properly referred, BSE found that students were not evaluated within the required timeframe. As a result, hundreds of children were languishing without the special education services they needed.

BSE ordered the district to put in place new policies and procedures, monitor data to ensure timely evaluations, and provide necessary compensatory education services to individual students impacted. These reforms will ensure that children with disabilities receive the services they need in a timely manner.

D.W. v. The Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School of Philadelphia

ELC filed this complaint in Pennsylvania’s Common Pleas Court in October 2019 on behalf of first-grade student D.W., who was illegally denied enrollment in a public charter school on the basis of her disability. ELC contends that this action by Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School of Philadelphia violates the child’s rights under state law.

ELC filed a petition for a preliminary injunction along with the complaint, seeking a court order directing MCSCS to enroll D.W. immediately.

Read our complaint, petition for preliminary injunction, memorandum in support of the petition, and news release.

Wible v. School District of Philadelphia (Pa. Commonwealth Court, 2019): ELC Files Amicus Brief on Gender-Based School Bullying, Harassment

The Education Law Center has co-authored and filed an amicus brief, along with the Women’s Law Project, in a landmark bullying case supporting a former Philadelphia School District student who sued the district for its deliberate indifference to her gender-based harassment and abuse. Wible v. School District of Philadelphia is a significant case because the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court may clarify the extent to which educational institutions are liable for student-on-student sexual harassment under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

This clarification is especially important given that the Trump administration has not shown a commitment to support students’ rights to pursue allegations of sexual harassment and assault under Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education. Pennsylvania students have the right under state law to hold their educational institution accountable for failing to adequately address student-to-student harassment.

Read our brief here.

In re J.L. amicus challenges placement of child in residential institution based purely on truancy

ELC, along with Juvenile Law Center (JLC), filed an amicus brief in the case In re J.L. in Pennsylvania Superior Court, challenging a judge’s decision to remove a student, J.L., from his parents and place the child in a residential institution based purely on the student’s non-attendance at school.

Despite the student’s status as a student with a disability and allegations that he was bullied in school, the judge removed J.L. from his parents—parents the judge acknowledged were loving and vigilant—without inquiring into interventions that would address the student’s truancy in light of his disability or the alleged bullying. ELC filed the amicus to educate the court on best practices to addressing truancy and to urge against the extreme and traumatic step of removing students from their homes based purely on truancy. Out-of-home placements put children at risk of negative life outcomes – including contact with the criminal justice system and further disengagement from school.

Nicole B. v. School District of Philadelphia, et al. (PA Supreme Court 2019)

The Education Law Center (ELC) filed amicus briefing in Nicole B. v. School District of Philadelphia, et al., a case involving a Philadelphia student who was relentlessly bullied because of his race and nonconformance with gender stereotypes; the school failed to intervene and allowed the bullying to escalate from verbal harassment, to multiple physical assaults, and, ultimately, to rape.

In July 2018, ELC partnered with DLA Piper, the Public Interest Law Center, and Juvenile Law Center in arguing that this student, and others like him, should have protection under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), Pennsylvania’s antidiscrimination law, when their school fails to intervene to stop ongoing harassment.

“Unfortunately, the Education Law Center hears frequently from families about issues of bullying and harassment in schools,” said Lizzy Wingfield, ELC’s Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader Fellow. “The issue of unaddressed bullying is pervasive and is particularly common when the bullied student is a child of color who does not conform to societal gender norms or is LGBTQ. Too many people who should intervene to stop bullying view the harassment of gender-nonconforming or LGBTQ students of color as if it is normal, so they don’t take it as seriously as the bullying of white, gender-conforming students. That’s why it is so critical that the PHRA is available as a tool to root out discriminatory pervasive bullying.”

The Commonwealth Court refused to consider the merits of the case because N.B., who was nine at the time he was raped, did not file his claim within 180 days of the incident. A legal doctrine known as minority tolling generally means that the time bar for bringing a child’s claim does not begin until the child turns 18, but the court ruled that minority tolling does not apply to PHRA claims. Minority tolling is a vital protection for Pennsylvania’s children, as it is fundamentally unfair to hold children like N.B. to the same statute of limitations as adults.

In addition to our brief filed in Commonwealth Court, ELC filed an amicus brief requesting the Pennsylvania Supreme Court review the Commonwealth Court’s ruling and ensure that children who experience discrimination in school can benefit from the protections of the PHRA. The PA Supreme Court agreed to review the case, and in August 2019, ELC submitted an amicus brief in the Supreme Court, joined by Juvenile Law Center, Public Interest Law Center, Women’s Law Project, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and Professor Emily Suski. WHYY covered this story.

In September 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled favorably in the case, holding that bullying victims have until six months after their 18th birthday to bring discrimination complaints under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. ELC staff attorney Kristina Moon commented, “By recognizing that minor children should not be subjected to a short, 180-day statute of limitations in filing claims with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the court has affirmed the right of students and former students to challenge wrongful racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and other discriminatory conduct in schools.” WHYY reported on the Supreme Court ruling in the case.

 

Franklin Towne Charter High School

Charter schools are public schools and cannot discriminate against students.  Charter schools must comply with the same enrollment requirements applicable to district schools.  This demand letter, provided to Franklin Towne Charter High School, challenges a discriminatory refusal to enroll a student with disabilities. (June, 2018).

Demand Letter

 

Early Intervention Transition Administrative Complaint against the School District of Philadelphia (2017)

This complaint, filed with the Bureau of Special Education, challenged delays in the completion of special education evaluations and development of IEPs for children with disabilities who transitioned from Elwyn SEEDS to kindergarten or first grade in the School District of Philadelphia. To date, the complaint has resulted in compensatory education services for 170 children, a number that is to expected to rise as the Bureau continues to investigate. The complaint also resulted in an order of corrective action that the School District create a new procedure to ensure children have a smooth transition moving forward.

Complaint

Complaint Investigation Report

Request for Reconsideration

Amended Complaint Investigation Report

ELC Recommendation Letter

CIR File Review

 

 

In Re B.B. ODR No. 18909-16-17-KE

ELC recently won a case that clarifies for the first time the responsibility of the PA Department of Education to provide transportation to children who are eligible for early intervention services in Philadelphia. ELC attorneys Sean McGrath and Maura McInerney brought the case on behalf of a three-year-old boy with autism who endured a series of inappropriate and unsafe transportation arrangements that regularly made him late to his special education program.  Prior to this decision, it was unclear whether the State, the School District of Philadelphia, or Elwyn, its contracted service provider, was responsible for ensuring safe, timely, and appropriate transportation for our youngest learners under state law.  The decision makes clear that this duty falls squarely and directly on the Department.  The ruling will not only improve this child’s transportation arrangements, but requires the Department to address its responsibility to ensure timely and safe transportation for other similarly situated young children with disabilities.  There are over 1,000 young children in Philadelphia who require transportation to receive early intervention services.

Read the decision

 

Issa v. School District of Lancaster (3d Cir., 2016)

The ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Education Law Center, and pro bono counsel Pepper Hamilton LLP filed a federal lawsuit on July 19, 2016, alleging that the School District of Lancaster (SDOL) has been illegally refusing to enroll older immigrant students with limited English proficiency or diverting them to an inferior, privately operated disciplinary school, rather than allowing them to attend the district’s regular high school. The plaintiffs include six refugees aged 17-21 from Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burma who have fled war, violence, and persecution in their native countries.

The problem of school districts refusing to enroll LEP students or placing them in sub-standard programs appears to be increasing around the country. This is the third federal lawsuit filed on this issue in the past fifteen months, with earlier cases filed against school districts in Utica, New York, and Collier County, Florida.

Click here to download a copy of the complaint. The case has been assigned Case No. 16-cv-3881.

Click here to view the original press release from July, 2016.

Click here to view the press release in response to the court’s decision from August, 2016.

Click here to view the court’s ruling on August 26, 2016.

Click here to view the Third Circuit’s decision from January 30, 2017.

Click here to view our January 30, 2017 press release.

T.R. et. al. v. School District of Philadelphia (E.D. Pa., 2015)

A federal class action lawsuit filed August 21, 2015 alleges that thousands of parents and their children are illegally denied the opportunity to participate in the special education process due to the fact that they don’t understand or speak English. The complaint alleges that the School District of Philadelphia refuses to sufficiently interpret or provide parents with translated documents in a timely manner, preventing them from participating in meetings and making informed decisions regarding educational placements and services. The lawsuit was filed by the Public Interest Law Center, the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, and Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP on behalf of a class of children with disabilities and their parents who are Limited English Proficient.

Press Release

Complaint

Ex. A to Complaint

Ex. B to Complaint

Ex. C to Complaint

Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss

Statement of Interest – US Department of Justice

Memorandum Opinion (11-30-2016)

Press Release (12-02-2016)

Amended Complaint Against All Defendants (4-10-2017)

Motion to Certify Class (8-3-2018)

Opposition to Class Certification (8-31-2018)

Reply Memorandum in Support of Motion to Certify Class (9-21-2018)

School District’s Surreply and Exhibits (10-5-2018)

Motion for Summary Judgment and Supporting Documents (9-27-2019)

Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment (11-4-2019)

Memorandum Opinion Granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (4-30-2020)