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.

Derrick et al. v. Glen Mills Schools et al.

Lawyers from Education Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and Dechert LLP filed a class action lawsuit April 11, 2019, 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.

The suit maintains that 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 Black youth – disproportionately sent to Glen Mills – as well as students with special education needs and disabilities, whose educational rights were ignored.

The defendants named are: Glen Mills Schools; Teresa D. Miller, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services in her individual capacity; Theodore Dallas, former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services in his individual capacity; Cathy Utz, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Children, Youth and Families in her individual capacity; Pedro A. Rivera, Secretary of Education of the Pennsylvania Department of Education in his official capacity; Pennsylvania Department of Education; Chester County Intermediate Unit; Randy Ireson, former Executive Director of Glen Mills Schools; Andre Walker; Robert Taylor; Sean Doe; Chris Doe 1; Chris Doe 2; and John Does 1-20. Named plaintiffs include youth and families from Philadelphia, Camden, N.J., Luzerne County, Pa., and Monroe County, Pa.

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. 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.

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, the Glen Mills facility is currently empty; these actions followed groundbreaking investigative reporting by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Lisa Gartner.

Read our April 2019 press release here.

Read our complaint here.

Read our comprehensive brief here, filed Aug. 30, 2019, opposing multiple motions to dismiss.

Read our press release, issued Dec. 20, 2019, on the court’s opinion and order allowing nearly all our claims to move forward.

S.A. by H.O. v. Pittsburgh Public School District (PA Commonwealth Court, 2017)

This case affirms the limits of the weapons possession statute, commonly referred to as “Act 26.” The Court agreed with the Education Law Center’s attorneys who argued that Pennsylvania law limits the scope of the definition to objects that are similar or comparable to the expressly-listed weapons, including guns and knives. School districts will no longer be able to use Act 26 to discipline students for misbehavior unrelated to the possession of a weapon. This case is particularly poignant, given the national, state and local data showing that expulsions are disproportionally used for Black and brown students, even though there is no evidence that these differences are due to different types or rates of behavior than white students.

Read the news release, ELC’s Act 26 Factsheet, and our Act 26 Law Reform Alert and Analysis.

Key Court Documents:

Commonwealth Court Opinion (5/1/2017)

ELC’s Commonwealth Court Brief (2/15/2017)

Common Pleas Court Ruling (Memo andOrder of Court) (8/29/2016)

ELC’s Common Pleas Brief

ELC’s Common Pleas Motion for Supersedeas

 

William Penn SD et al. v. Pa. Dept. of Education et al. (Pa. Commonwealth Court, 2018)

A chronology of the case: The lawsuit filed in 2014 on behalf of parents, school districts, and statewide organizations in response to the failure of Pennsylvania’s legislature to adequately and equitably fund public education was remanded to Commonwealth Court by the state Supreme Court in  September 2017.

Following oral argument on March 7, 2018, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled in our favor on May 7 in this case, overruling a set of objections filed by state legislative leaders and moving our school funding lawsuit closer to trial. The court spelled out the next steps in the case, directing the parties to address two issues before it goes to trial:  Whether the state’s adoption of education funding formula renders the case moot and whether education is an important or fundamental right under Pennsylvania law.  Read more in the May 7, 2018, News Release.

Our brief filed July 6 refuted the argument made by respondent Sen. Scarnati that the funding formula renders the case moot, pointing out the decline in funding available for classroom expenses and the widening gaps in spending between low-wealth and high-wealth districts. Read more in the July 6, 2018, News Release. The respondents also filed briefs on whether the case is moot, as described in the August 7, 2018, News Release.

The court denied the respondents’ petition to dismiss the case as moot in an order issued August 21, 2018, clearing the way for the case to move toward trial, as described in this news release.

In a scheduling order issued on December 6, 2018, the court set a tentative trial date for summer 2020, with discovery to be concluded by October 2019, as described in this news release. In September 2019, the parties agreed to a two-month extension of deadlines.

Read more: Frequently Asked Questions About the School Funding Case

Key court documents:

Commonwealth Court Order Setting Oral Argument (1/31/2018)

Our Brief in Opposition to Preliminary Objections  (2/15/2018)

Brief of Senator Joseph Scarnati

Brief of Governor Wolf

Brief of Speaker Michael Turzai

Brief of State Board of Education

Decision Overruling Preliminary Objections (5/7/2018)

Our Brief in Opposition to Mootness Application (7/6/2018)

Response of Senator Scarnati on Mootness (8/3/2018)

Response of Representative Turzai on Mootness (8/3/2018)

Response of Governor Wolf on Mootness (8/3/2018)

Response of State Board of Education on Mootness (8/3/2018)

Scarnati Application for Decision on Mootness (8/13/2018)

Answer to Scarnati Application for Decision on Mootness (8/14/2018)

Order Denying Application to Dismiss for Mootness (8/21/2018)

Answer and New Matter:  State Board of Education (9/20/2018)

Answer and New Matter: Sen. Scarnati (9/19/2018)

Answer and New Matter: Rep. Turzai (9/19/2018)

Answer and New Matter: Gov. Wolf (9/19/2018)

Opposition to Scheduling Conference:  Rep. Turzai (9/21/2018)

Non-Opposition to Scheduling Conference:  Sen. Scarnati (9/21/2018)

Non-Opposition to Scheduling Conference:  State Board of Education (9/21/2018)

Non-Opposition to Scheduling Conference:  Gov. Wolf (9/21/2018)

Scheduling Order (12/6/2018)

Order Granting Application for Extension (9/12/2019)

Order Granting Application for Extension (11/20/2019)

Order Granting Application for Extension (1/24/2020)

Order Granting Application for Extension (3/20/2020)

Order Granting Application for Extension (5/28/2020)

Order Filed for Oral Argument (5/29/2020)

Order Granting Application for Extension (8/10/20)

Order Granting Application for Extension (9/24/20)

William Penn SD et al. v. Pa. Dept. of Education et al. (Pa., 2017)

On September 28, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court delivered a major victory to hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania students by ordering the Commonwealth Court to hold a trial on whether state officials are violating the state’s constitution by failing to adequately and equitably fund public education.

The lawsuit – William Penn School District, et al. v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, et al. – was filed in 2014 on behalf of parents, school districts, and statewide organizations in response to the failure in Harrisburg to adequately fund public education and provide students with the resources they need to succeed academically.

In a sweeping decision, the Court agreed that it has a clear duty to consider the case and ensure legislative compliance with the state’s Education Clause, which requires the General Assembly to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education” for Pennsylvania’s schoolchildren. The Court also found no basis to deny consideration of claims by parents and school districts that the legislature’s grossly unequal funding discriminates against children based on where they live and the wealth of their communities.  Read the decision here.

Continue reading

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.

William Penn SD et. al. v. Pa. Dept. of Education et. al. (Pa., 2015)

On Sept. 20, 2015, public school parents, school districts, and two statewide associations continued their legal challenge of Pennsylvania’s broken school funding system, telling the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that the availability of a high-quality public education in Pennsylvania will continue to be a “function of community wealth rather than a constitutional guarantee” unless the Court agrees to hear the legal challenge.

Supreme Court – Brief of Appellant e-filed

Amici Brief: Law School Professors

Amici Brief: PCCY et al

Amici Brief: Consortium for Public Education

Amici Brief: PFT, AFT

Read more at ELC and PILC’s website about the case, available here.

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)

Plaintiff’s Reply Brief (Third Circuit, 10-22-2020)

 

William Penn SD et. al. v. Pa. Dept. of Education et. al. (Pa. Commw. Ct., 2014)

The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia filed suit in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on November 10, 2014 on behalf of six school districts, seven parents, and two statewide associations against legislative leaders, state education officials, and the Governor for failing to uphold the General Assembly’s constitutional obligation to provide a “thorough and efficient” system of public education.

Complaint Summary

Full Complaint

WmPenn_v_PDE_MotiontoExpedite

WmPenn_v_PDE_OrderRequiringResponse_to_Motion_to_Expedite

WmPenn_V_PDE_OrderDenyingMotion_to_Expedite

WmPenn_v_PDE_ExBranch_PreliminaryObjections

WmPenn_v_PDE_LegislativeBranch_PreliminaryObjections

WmPenn_v_PDE_Order_PreliminaryObjectionsSchedule

WmPenn_v_PDE_AnswerExecutiveBranchPO

WmPenn_v_PDE_AnswerLegislativePO

WmPenn_v_PDE_ExecBranch_Respondents_PO_1_15_16

WmPenn_v_PDE_Response_to_PrelimObjs_2_17_15

WmPenn_v_PDE_AmicusCuriae_Consort_for_PubEd_2_17_15

WmPenn_v_PDE_AmicusCuriae_PFT_AFT_2_17_15

WmPenn_v_PDE_ExecBranch_ReplyBrief_PrelimObjections_3_3_15

WmPenn_v_PDE_Legis_ReplyBrief_PrelimObjections_3_3_15

Opinion, 4-25-2015

 

A.M. v. School District of Philadelphia and PA Dept. of Education (2013)

This administrative complaint of 2013, resulted in state establishing proactive obligation of school districts to ensure appointment of “surrogate parents” for children with disabilities in foster care residential placements, adoption of new monitoring procedures, and issuance of new state guidance.

N.C. v. Easton Area School District (U.S. District Court – Eastern District, 2013)

The Education Law Center filed this Dec. 10, 2013 lawsuit on behalf of two students experiencing homelessness who have recently been dis-enrolled from their public schools due to lack of residency. Plaintiff N.C. is a senior in high school who is on track to graduate and his brother, Plaintiff N.G.C., an 8th grade student. Both children have special education needs and have attended school in Easton Area School District all their lives.

The two students are currently back in school pending a judge’s ruling on the case.

NC_Easton_Complaint

NC_Easton_PreliminaryInjunction

T.P. v. McKeesport, (Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County, 2012)

On August 23, 2012, the Court granted final approval of a Class Action Settlement Agreement providing comprehensive relief to over 300 former residents of a group home who were educated in a segregated and more limited educational setting at McKeesport Area School District.

The lawsuit, filed by ELC in partnership with Pittsburgh-based KidsVoice, claimed that the District violated state and federal laws by treating residents of the group home in a discriminatory manner and denying them access to the full range of educational opportunities afforded to residents of the District. The Settlement Agreement approved by the Court ensures that all students residing in the group home will have full access to educational opportunities in regular public schools. In addition, the Agreement provides supplemental educational services to all students and compensatory education services to students with disabilities who resided in the group home.

Ridley School District, Appellee v. M.R. and J.R., parents of E.R., A Minor, Appellants (3d Cir., 2012)

This case, filed in February 2011, involves an issue of first impression in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the meaning of the IDEA’s requirement that the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services in a child’s IEP be “based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable.” The case was argued in front of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on March 19, 2012.

Pyramid Health, Inc. v. Quakertown Community School District (2010)

This complaint resulted in corrective action report requiring school district to provide a full day of instruction and an educational program that is “equally effective” as that afforded to non-disabled peers including, access to public school to youth residing in drug rehab residential placement who had previously received only 5 per week of education.