Resources: Ensuring Equal Access

Ensuring Equal Access

Current Law & Policy

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the longstanding inequities in our educational system. Black and Brown students, students living in poverty, and other historically underserved groups have been disproportionately harmed by the shift to online learning. To ensure that these students are not left behind, schools must focus on equity and respond flexibly to the individual needs of diverse student populations. Schools will need support for this work from every level of government.

    This checklist is a guide to ensure that schools providing online instruction are equitably serving students in the new school year. Access the full checklist here.

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  • ELC staff attorney Paige Joki called upon the School District of Philadelphia’s Board of Education to consider equity measures in considering whether to authorize or renew Philadelphia area charter schools, in addition to the measures of academic, operational, and financial measures used in the current Charter School Performance Framework.

    ELC’s testimony highlighted students’ rights to be free from racism at school and the ways that racialized school discipline policies such as discriminatory grooming codes, subjective violations of schools’ codes of conduct, and the issuance of parental exclusion notices push Black and Brown learners, particularly Black girls, out of education spaces. ELC also called for revisions to the Charter School Performance Framework to ensure that complaints of racial harassment and discrimination received by the Charter School Office are included the evaluation framework. Read the testimony here.

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  • In 2021, Chester Upland School District faces the potential outsourcing of some or all of its schools, The court-appointed receiver for the district is now implementing a court-authorized request for proposals (RFP) process that could lead to charter conversion or private management of some or all district schools by this fall.

    The current crisis is rooted in a long history of racist policymaking and systemic underfunding. Read about that in this presentation.

    ELC, along with Public Interest Law Center, continues to advocate on behalf of Chester parents, students, and the disability rights group Delaware County Advocacy & Resource Organization. We aim to ensure that the quality of education provided to students is centered, parent input and transparency are prioritized, and the needs of students with disabilities are addressed.

    In response to our emergency motion to suspend the RFP process, the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas held a Jan. 11 hearing to consider our challenge that the RFP failed to ensure that charter operators demonstrate superior academic outcomes to the district’s and that all bidders establish their ability to improve educational outcomes and meet the needs of all students. On Jan. 14, Judge Barry Dozor ordered revisions to the RFP and suspended the RFP process until the district could submit its completed 2019 financial audits. The new deadline for RFP submissions is Feb. 25. A task force will then be convened to make recommendations to the receiver, and a public hearing held where parents and stakeholders can ask questions of the selected bidders prior to a court hearing on a final plan.

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  • We at the Education Law Center stand in solidarity with Black communities and other communities of color in challenging systemic racism and police brutality.

    In response to recent events of police brutality, the overwhelmingly disparate racial impact of the pandemic, and the callous indifference of many in the power structure, ELC rededicates itself to effectively addressing the deeply entrenched inequities our schools, using legal and advocacy tools as effectively as we can to dismantle racial injustice and advance educational equity. Read our statement.

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  • Bullying and harassment are pervasive problems across the United States, Pennsylvania, and in Philadelphia public schools. Every week, ELC hears from multiple parents calling our Helpline to report concern and frustration about their children in the School District of Philadelphia who are suffering from persistent and serious bullying that is unaddressed by school staff.

    In 2017, ELC filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on behalf of children with disabilities who were discriminated against due to pervasive bullying and harassment that was unanswered by the District due to a systemic failure to promptly and appropriately investigate their complaints and address their educational needs. The District’s failure to promptly and appropriately address alleged incidents of bullying, including consideration of whether the bullying resulted in the denial of a free appropriate public education and in referrals to truancy court for absences relating to bullying, constituted discrimination on the basis of disability.

    OCR opened an investigation and  entered into a Resolution Agreement with the District that awarded individual relief to named complainants and required the District to review and revise its anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies and procedures, provide staff training on disability discrimination and on the duties of school personnel to report, investigate, and appropriately address incidents of bullying and harassment.

    Informed by our experiences in handling these matters and OCR’s Resolution Agreement, ELC is offering proposed changes to District Policy 249 on bullying, which is being revised in fall 2019. Our key recommendations fall in three areas:

    -Reforming the reporting process to ensure that all bullying complaints are considered, documented, and investigated;

    -Providing training and support to ensure robust bullying investigations by impartial, trained staff; and

    -Expanding District oversight and monitoring through data collection, analysis and interventions.

    Read our November 14, 2019, testimony to the Policy Committee of the Philadelphia school board.

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  • For a meeting of the Student Achievement and Support Committee of the Philadelphia school board, ELC provided an overview of the rights of English learners and limited-English-proficient parents, followed by a discussion of our understanding of the particular needs and concerns of ELs and LEP families in schools across the District.

    ELC’s recommendations focus on three key areas: 1) prompt enrollment and access to language assistance for families; 2) quality ESL instruction; and  3) equal access and opportunities (for example, to special education services or to selective high schools).

    Read our testimony.

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  • The Eastern Lancaster County (Elanco) School District in early 2019 took the positive step of permitting transgender students to use the facilities with which they identify. The Education Law Center wrote an open letter of support explaining that the district has legal obligations to affirm transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) students. The letter also explained that welcoming, inclusive school climates enable TGNC students to thrive in their educational environments, whereas hostile and negative school climates are associated with severe educational and health consequences. Read our open letter.

    Lancaster Online’s editorial board wrote an editorial in support of Elanco’s affirming practices. Unfortunately, soon after, the Elanco school board backed away from the district’s positive position.

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  • Submitted to the Pennsylvania State Board of Education in March, 2016, this testimony from ELC Senior Staff Attorney Maura McInerney responds to proposed revisions to Chapter 11 of the Public School Code. She suggests an amendment to §11.20 that would allow the immediate enrollment of children experiencing homelessness and children currently in foster care, with immunization records to be provided following that enrollment.

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  • Senior Staff Attorney Maura McInerney presented this slideshow in February, 2016. The document reviews the Every Students Succeeds Act and considers the potential benefits and drawbacks for vulnerable students in Pennsylvania.

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  • This guide provides clearly explained legal rules for special education and early intervention programs in Pennsylvania for children from ages three to 21. 

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  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has developed an enrollment complaint process to investigate whether a school district has illegally determined that a student is not a resident of the school district or is not otherwise entitled to attend school in the district. This process applies to all public schools, including charter schools and cyber charter schools.

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  • The Education Law Center is pleased to announce the publication of the second edition of A Family Guide to Inclusive Early Childhood Learning in Pennsylvania. This project has been supported by a grant from the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council.

    This guide is designed to be a quick and easy resource to inclusive early childhood learning programs in Pennsylvania for parents of children with developmental delays or disabilities.

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  • In this March 2010 report, ELC proposes legal and policy changes that will ensure that alternative programs are adequately supported and monitored; that their services are consistently comparable to those offered to other Pennsylvania students; that students are placed in these programs only when their needs justify the assignment; that the programs operate in a manner that is consistent with applicable federal and state laws; and that, in a number of other respects, programs meet the high standards that the state has set for all of Pennsylvania’s public education programs – and justify the taxpayers’ investment of funds.

     

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  • This 2009 ELC handbook for attorneys and advocates who represent students examines the law on school discipline in Pennsylvania, which derives from the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions; federal and state statutes, regulations, and case law; and policies of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, school districts, and individual schools.

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  • Youth who are adjudicated delinquent frequently encounter problems in obtaining appropriate education services in placement, as well as when they are released and reintegrated into their communities. This 2009 Toolkit from the Education Law Center provides the basic information and resources needed to help juvenile probation officers and other juvenile justice professionals overcome these problems.

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Ensuring Equal Access

Analysis & Research

  • Policies that discriminate against transgender students by prohibiting them from engaging in sports in accordance with their gender identity violate Title IX’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex. Affirming the identities of transgender, nonbinary, and intersex youth in sports participation is a critical part of improving physical and mental health outcomes for these students and allows them to learn and thrive in school.

    Read this statement urging school boards to comply with their clear legal obligations under federal and state law to reject policies that discriminate against transgender students and to affirmatively and proactively promote healthy, welcoming, and inclusive school environments where all students can thrive.

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  • There is no legal basis for a school district to prohibit students from using the school bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity. To do so flies in the face of direct and controlling legal precedent. The U.S. Supreme Court and many federal courts, including in Pennsylvania, have recognized and affirmed that such discrimination is unlawful.

    Read our statement urging all school districts to uphold their nondiscrimination obligations under the law and reject policies or practices that restrict students’ access to facilities based on sex or gender identity.

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  • Book bans are on the rise across the nation, and Pennsylvania ranks third among the states in terms of most books banned. Book bans not only deprive students of important learning opportunities; they directly undermine student self-esteem, further erase historically marginalized identities, and treat students of color and students who identify as LBGTQ+ as inferior and unwelcome.

    Read our statement urging school boards to uphold the First Amendment and reject policies that unlawfully remove books from school libraries.

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  • The Education Law Center – PA has just released a new report — We Need Supportive Spaces That Celebrate Us: Black Girls Speak Out About Public Schools. It centers the experiences of Black girlhood in Pennsylvania public schools and sets forth Black girls’ recommendations for making long overdue changes that will create more just school communities. Supportive Spaces is the first education-focused report of its kind in Pennsylvania because it centers the voices of the experts: Black girls attending public schools!   

    Public schools should be supportive, affirming, and well-resourced places where Black girls learn and thrive. We know this isn’t the reality. Inequities caused by anti-Black racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and economic injustice pervade every aspect of Black girls’ education and deprive them of the types of educational spaces they are entitled to under law and deserve. This can and must change.  

    Read more about Supportive Spaces and our Black Girls Education Justice Initiative at https://www.elc-pa.org/supportivespaces/  

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  • In a statement on the Pennsylvania budget, ELC welcomes the news from the General Assembly that state funding for basic education, special education, and pre-K in the coming school year will not be reduced from current levels, despite the dropoff in state revenues. Schools are already facing substantial decreases in revenue from local sources due to the economic downturn – as well as added costs associated with COVID-19 and the shift to remote learning. The state must promptly find ways to provide additional support to the struggling, underfunded school districts whose students have been hardest hit by this crisis. Read the full statement here.

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  • This report by Children’s Rights and the Education Law Center-PA, entitled Unsafe and Uneducated: Indifference to Dangers in Pennsylvania’s Residential Child Welfare Facilities, raises serious concerns about the safety of Pennsylvania’s residential placements for youth in foster care – and about the quality of education provided there.

    In 2017, more than 3,700 youth in Pennsylvania foster care were in residential facilities, so that 47% of youth aged 14-21 in Pennsylvania foster care lived in these facilities, compared to 34% nationwide. Because of a lack of adequate oversight by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, these facilities expose children to harmful treatment, including verbal, physical, and sexual abuse and mistreatment from staff and other children.

    The report highlights that the “on-grounds” schools that most children in these residential facilities attend similarly lack proper oversight from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. These schools typically offer inferior education with curriculum far below grade level, largely ignoring the heightened learning needs of these students. Read our joint release summarizing the report.

    Read this December 2018 report.

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  • ELC was invited to provide testimony in October 2018 regarding the high school selection process to the Student Achievement and Supports Committee of the Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia. Staff Attorney Kristina Moon provided written and oral testimony describing concerns from families and advocates about the district’s failure to implement the LeGare consent decree that requires the district provide equal opportunity for students with disabilities and English Learners to attend special admission high schools. ELC also called upon the Board to consider changes to the selective admission criteria that could allow students from neighborhood schools with less resources a more equitable chance to attend selective high schools.  Additionally, ELC urged the Board to consider whether charter schools are equitably serving all students when reviewing applications for renewal or expansion. Read the full testimony here:

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  • At the October 2018 action meeting of the Philadelphia School Board, ELC offered testimony supporting a proposal that would increase transitional training and support services for students with disabilities.  Federal and state law require transition planning for every child beginning at age 14, including requiring school districts to provide every child with a disability with comprehensive services that will help them transition from school to post-school-life.  (more…)

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  • Despite prohibiting the suspension of Kindergarten students, the School District of Philadelphia continues to suspend students in first through fifth grades at alarming rates. (more…)

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  • Education Law Center Staff Attorney Kristina Moon presented testimony on March 16, 2017 to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission on how the city’s schools can better meet the needs of students learning English, parents with limited English proficiency, and immigrant families.

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  • This testimony was presented in January, 2017 at a town hall meeting hosted by Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym and the School District of Philadelphia. It raises a number of issues related to the educational needs of immigrant students, students learning English, and their families.

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  • Published in February 2017, this analysis explains how Pennsylvania’s charter schools serve disproportionately fewer of the state’s vulnerable students than traditional public schools, too often segregating students by type of disability. Federal and state laws are clear that charter schools must provide quality public options for all pupils. With respect to students eligible for special education under Pennsylvania law and the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the data demonstrates that, even where charter schools are serving proportionate numbers of students with disabilities in line with their share of the overall student population, the charter sector by and large does not educate students with disabilities who require higher cost aids and services—e.g. students with intellectual disabilities, serious emotional disturbance, and multiple disabilities. Instead, the charter sector serves students with disabilities who require lower cost aids and services, such as speech and language impairment and specific learning disabilities.

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  • ELC submitted these comments to the U.S. Department of Education in response to the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) published in the Federal Register on May 31, 2016 regarding the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Through these comments, we highlight the critical need for greater accountability of schools serving educationally at risk students, especially students experiencing homelessness, students in foster care, and youth involved in and reentering from the juvenile justice system.

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  • The lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan has shined a light on a persistent, yet often invisible, problem in Pennsylvania. While many think of lead as an issue of the past, it is not. For many of Pennsylvania’s children, lead exposure continues to be a silent epidemic that plagues their communities and undermines their ability to learn. This brief, “Lead and Its Impact on Learning: What Schools, Parents & Policymakers Need to Know and Do,” written by Maura McInerney, Esq. and Alissa S. Werzen, M.D., was published February 11, 2016.

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  • In January 2016, ELC submitted comments in response to the U.S. Department of Education’s request for recommendations prior to publishing proposed regulations to implement programs under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

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  • In October 2015, the Education Law Center submitted comments to the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) on their draft of a proposed policy announcement: “Reduction of Suspensions and Expulsions in Early Childhood Programs in Pennsylvania (15-#1)” [.doc]. The draft announcement was based, in part, on the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education policy guidance on the issue, released in December 2014: Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension in Early Childhood Settings.

    ELC’s comments, available below, were informed by our expertise advocating for the rights of the most vulnerable children birth through age twenty one and our extensive experience listening to the hundreds of children and families we have served each year for the past four decades. These public comments are part of ELC’s larger body of work focused on reducing exclusionary discipline that is disproportionately used on vulnerable populations and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline that pushes at-risk youth into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

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  • In Unlocking the Door to Learning: Trauma-Informed Classrooms & Transformational Schools, ELC Senior Staff Attorney Maura McInerney, Esq. and Amy McKlindon, M.S.W. discuss the impact of trauma on learning and what schools and educators can do to create a trauma-informed learning environment.

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  • ELC Staff Attorney David Lapp’s recommendations on charter school legislation being considered by Pennsylvania State Legislature in June, 2015. Discussion includes a comparison of HB 530, PN 569 and SB 856, PN 968.

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  • Education Law Center Staff Attorney David Lapp’s testimony to the Pennsylvania Basic Education Funding Commission on November 18, 2014, entitled “Time for a Rational Fix to the Special Education Tuition in Pennsylvania Charter Schools.”

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  • Senior Staff Attorney Maura McInerney provided testimony to the Pennsylvania Senate’s Education Committee at their June 9th hearing on truancy. She discussed how punitive responses to truancy can be ineffectual and counterproductive and the importance of school-level interventions to improve attendance.

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  • ELC Attorney Leigh Loman provided this testimony to the National Council on Disability (NCD) on May 4-5 at their national meeting in Pittsburgh, PA. NCD is an independent federal agency responsible for advising the President, Congress and other federal agencies on issues affecting the lives of people with disabilities.

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  • A summary of the Education Law Center’s 2014 recommendations to improve educational outcomes for English learners (ELs).

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  • On Feb. 2, 2015, the Education Law Center submitted comments on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015 Discussion Draft.

    The reauthorization of the ESEA offers an opportunity to update our nation’s primary federal education law to build upon the lessons learned since the last reauthorization. The Education Law Center urges Congress to reauthorize the ESEA in 2015 and address a number of priorities, including: Maintain a strong federal role in promoting equity and accountability; encourage states to fund schools equitably; protect Title I dollars for the poorest schools and districts; and act to end school pushout and the school-to-prison pipeline.

    Read ELC’s full comments.

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  • Education Law Center Attorney David Lapp’s March 7, 2014 testimony at the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s hearing highlights significant demographic disparities when comparing brick-and-mortar charter schools as a whole in Philadelphia to the School District of Philadelphia schools.

    (more…)

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  • The graphs in this analysis were created by the Education Law Center using publicly reported data on public school enrollment demographics. We focused on Pennsylvania’s most heavily-chartered communities — Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chester-Upland, York City, and Erie City — and on students receiving special education services.

    The data demonstrates that, while a number of individual charter schools equitably serve all students, the charter school sector taken as a whole generally underserves these vulnerable student populations. The result is that, with some notable exceptions, these students are often more heavily concentrated in the authorizing school district of residence.

     

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  • ELC’s November 2012 testimony to the Pennsylvania Department of Education on eight cyber charter school applications.

    An excerpt: “The academic performance of the existing cyber charter schools raises serious questions about the ability of such programs to enable students to meet Pennsylvania’s academic standards and this performance should give the Department great pause before authorizing any additional cyber charters.”

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  • The Law Center believes that important reforms are needed for Pennsylvania’s system of charter schools. However, it is important to note that the legislative process for charter school reform has headed down the wrong path.

    (The following analysis highlights proposed changes to the law. These changes were not adopted in 2012 or 2013, but many of them are contained in current charter law proposals before the legislature.)

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  • According to the research findings, students who have access to a quality school library program have an academic advantage over students who did not have such access. This 2012 report, produced by the Education Law Center and the Pennsylvania Association of School Librarians, shows these academic differences are not explained away by the socio-economic, racial/ethnic, or disability status of the students. In fact, the research shows that all students with access to a full-time, certified librarians have higher PSSA Reading and Writing scores than students without that access.

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  • Charter schools are public schools and must follow laws that protect the rights of public school students. Ensuring that charter schools, as well as traditional public schools, provide quality education to all students is an important part of ELC’s mission.

    The following principles, published in 2012, are an outgrowth of ELC’s work with and on behalf of thousands of families throughout Pennsylvania.

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  • In 2009, Stoneleigh Foundation Junior Fellow Arley Styer joined with the Education Law Center to explore the educational experiences of children placed in Pennsylvania group homes and residential treatment facilities. These children, many of whom tend to suffer from behavior disorders, often encounter educational barriers such as lack of needed special education services or too few hours of schooling while in placement.

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  • In this March 2010 report, ELC proposes legal and policy changes that will ensure that alternative programs are adequately supported and monitored; that their services are consistently comparable to those offered to other Pennsylvania students; that students are placed in these programs only when their needs justify the assignment; that the programs operate in a manner that is consistent with applicable federal and state laws; and that, in a number of other respects, programs meet the high standards that the state has set for all of Pennsylvania’s public education programs – and justify the taxpayers’ investment of funds.

     

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Ensuring Equal Access

Fact Sheets

  • In March 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that parents are not required to exhaust administrative procedures under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) before seeking relief in the form of compensatory damages under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504). 

     This fact sheet provides an analysis of that case, Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, and prior decisions addressing the right to damages for students with disabilities. 

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  • Your child’s right to school transportation depends on the local policies adopted by your school district, the distance from your residence to the school, and whether your child has disabilities that require individualized transportation arrangements.
     You can learn more here. 

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  • Early intervention (EI) services and supports are available to babies and young children with developmental delays and disabilities. This fact sheet provides information on the steps you can take as a parent or caregiver to make sure young children receive the services they need. You can access the full guide here. 

     To learn more about EI services, see also ELC’s Early Intervention Questions & Answers. 

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  • Students in partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) or day treatment programs maintain their right to a free public education, like all other public school students. To learn more about the rights of students in partial hospitalization or day treatment programs, click here. 

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  • Research shows that school-age children experienced significant learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    This fact sheet explains the rights of students with disabilities to receive COVID compensatory services for the education, services, and supports they did not receive as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more here. 

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  • Gender-based violence and sexual harassment are widespread problems in K-12 schools throughout the country and in Pennsylvania. For example, nearly half of students in grades 7-12 reported experiencing sexual harassment in the 2017-18 school year. The U.S. Government Accountability Office has found that K-12 students who experience hostile behaviors, including sexual harassment and assault, are more likely to experience depression and anxiety as well as decreased participation and achievement in school. Students have the right to be free from sex- or gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence at school. Learn more here. 

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  • The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) is the commonwealth’s key antidiscrimination law. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) enforces this state law, which prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of race, color, ancestry, disability, religion, national origin, family status, and sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation). The PHRA affords broad protections against racial, sex-based, and disability discrimination.  

     To learn more about the process for filing a discrimination complaint and your role in the complaint process, click here. 

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  • Playing sports provides many direct and indirect benefits to young people, and these benefits must be equitably offered to all students in public schools, including transgender, nonbinary, and intersex students. 

     You can learn more here. 

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  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, many students across Pennsylvania were exposed to “virtual learning” or “virtual school programs” for the first time. These are programs operated by a school district or charter school that offer an education program through computer-based or online programs and may also be referred to as “cyber” learning. 

     This fact sheet discusses district virtual school programs and cyber charter schools. To learn more, click here. 

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  • If your child with a disability has been denied needed educational services required by law, your student is entitled to make-up educational services, or compensatory education.

    Compensatory education is meant to put a student in the same position they would be in if the school had provided appropriate special education and supports in the first place. Because of that, compensatory education is highly individualized and broadly flexible to the needs of your student.

    To learn more about how to receive compensatory education for your child, click here.

    Please note – this document is available in Spanish.

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  • All students have the right to be free from bullying and harassment in school ‒ whether it is verbal, written, graphic, physical, or online. All forms of bullying and harassment are not permitted and require your school to investigate and intervene to ensure that the bullying and harassment does not continue. The problem must be addressed promptly, as students who are bullied are at increased risk of experiencing health problems and academic struggles and are more likely to drop out of school.

    To learn more, click here.

    Please note – this document is available in Spanish and Chinese.

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  • Attempts to ban books are on the rise nationally, and Pennsylvania is no exception. This worrisome trend is already negatively impacting Pennsylvania students, who have less access to the diverse viewpoints and ideas expressed in the books being banned.

    While school districts have the power to select and, in some cases, remove books from public schools, there are important limitations on a school board’s ability to ban books. There are also actions that students, parents, and community members can take to fight back against these harmful policies.

    Learn more about these actions here.

     

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  • School boards play a pivotal role in shaping the education that public school students receive.

    School boards are accountable to the residents of the district they serve and who elected them. This means they have a responsibility to keep the community informed and must make their decisions using input from the public and members of the school community.

    Learn more about school boards and how to make your voice heard at school board meetings here.

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  • Children involved in the juvenile justice systems have the right to a free public education, like all public school students. These rights are not lost because of system involvement, and additional protections are in place to ensure access to a quality public education. Children and youth in the juvenile justice system may need strong advocates because they are among the most educationally underserved of all student populations. As a result of multiple school changes and placement in on-grounds schools, students who are system-involved often fall through the cracks.

    This fact sheet highlights important protections and addresses ways to support students to be successful.

    To learn more, click here.

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  • Discrimination against LGBTQ people is illegal. Courts have increasingly recognized the rights of students who identify as gay or transgender, as well as students who are nonbinary or gender-nonconforming (sometimes referred to as “gender-expansive”). Students who are LGBTQ or gender-expansive have the same rights as other students, and schools are required to intervene and correct policies or practices that discriminate against students based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

    You can learn more here.

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  • It is estimated that children in foster care change living placements on average two to three times while in care, and a third of older youth experience five or more school changes. Children lose four to six months of academic progress with each school change. Too often, credits earned at one school do not transfer or are not recognized towards graduation. These students are more likely to miss
    school, be placed in inappropriate classes, and fail to receive the special education and remedial services they need, due in part to the absence of a consistent and involved educational decisionmaker.

    To address these issues, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ensures school stability and immediate enrollment for all children in foster care. This fact sheet explains the important protections under this law and how these requirements are implemented in Pennsylvania.

    Learn more here.

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  • Young children who experience delays in growth and development, even as young as birth, are entitled to receive free educational services to help them develop and gain skills for later school success. Parents should be included in the planning and delivery of those services. This fact sheet provides information on how parents can make sure their young children get the early intervention services they need.

    You can access it here.

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  • Parents and schools may disagree about any matter related to a child’s education, including whether or not a child is eligible for special education services, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) offered by the school, the type and length of services, and the child’s school and classroom placement. This fact sheet provides information on how parents can address and resolve disagreements. You can access the full guide here.

    To learn more about requesting mediation to resolve special education disagreements and to access the necessary forms, click here.

    Please note – this document is available in Spanish and Chinese.

    Special note: In many cases, parents must notify a school that they disagree with a decision AND must take action to challenge a proposed IEP or placement within 10 days of written notice of the decision.

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  • Before a child can begin receiving special education services, the child must be evaluated to determine if the child is eligible for these services. The evaluation helps determine if the child has a disability and needs special education services. The evaluation is also important to identify changes to instruction, services, and supports the child needs to succeed.

    You can learn more about how to request an evaluation here.

    Please note – this document is available in Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Nepali.

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  • Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices including computers, cell phones, and tablets. The same rules that require a school to investigate and intervene to prevent in-person bullying also apply to cyberbullying.

    Learn more about cyberbullying here.

    For more information on bullying, see ELC’s toolkit, What to Do When Your Child Is Bullied or Harassed: A Parent’s Guide to Advocacy in Pennsylvania Public Schools, available here.

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  • The First Amendment protects the rights of students to express themselves in public schools. Students are entitled to speak out, write articles, form groups, hand out flyers, and petition school officials. There are some important limits, however. Schools can prohibit certain forms of expression, including speech that substantially disrupts the school environment, violates the rights of others, or is lewd or vulgar.

    Learn more here about what rights to free speech and expression students have in school.

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  • Beginning with the graduating class of 2023, new statewide graduation requirements will apply to all public school students. As a result, every student must now satisfy one of several pathways to demonstrate postsecondary preparedness in order to receive a diploma.

    Two of these options require a student to demonstrate proficiency or satisfactory completion of end-of-course Keystone Exams to satisfy the statewide graduation requirement.

    You can read what all of the pathways are to meet the new requirements here.

    Please note – this document is available in Spanish.

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  • This fact sheet addresses the rights of linguistically and culturally diverse parents and caregivers (defined by law as limited English proficient or “LEP”) who seek to enroll a child in school. A person is legally considered “limited English proficient” if the person’s primary language or languages are not English, and they do not read, speak, write, or understand English well. LEP individuals have the right to interpretation and translated documents in this process.

    Learn more here.

    Please note – this document is available in Spanish.

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  • Every child of school age who is a resident of Pennsylvania has a right to public education. Making sure that your child enrolls and attends school is important for your child’s education and future. Moving through these four steps will help you enroll your child in a public school (including a charter school and cyber charter school) as soon as possible. Click here to learn how.

    If a child is living with someone other than their parent, please see our school enrollment guide for a child living with someone other than their parents.

    Please note – this document is available in Spanish.

    Special note: During the pandemic, nearly all districts began offering “online enrollment” and some districts will continue to use this option during this school year. 

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  • Members of Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous communities have been leading efforts to build affirming school environments and culturally responsive and celebratory curriculum for decades. They have also been working to create community-based educational initiatives to expand learning opportunities. Across the state, many students, parents, educators, advocates, and community members are now focusing on making schools antiracist and free from prejudice. These efforts are critical to ensuring a safe, supportive, respectful, and affirming learning environment for children of color.

    You can learn more about these antiracist initiatives here.

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  • Students deserve affirming and safe school environments that celebrate them for who they are and provide robust opportunities to learn. Schools have a legal obligation to ensure that students are not denied opportunities, treated differently, discriminated against, or harassed because of their race, color, or national origin. Schools must have policies and procedures to prevent and address bullying and harassment based on race and must ensure equal opportunities for students of color.

    Under federal and state laws as well as the U.S. Constitution and Pennsylvania’s Constitution, racial discrimination is illegal, and there is no place for it in our schools. Learn more here about your rights and what you can do if your child is facing racial discrimination in school.

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  • Act 1: New Tools to Support Students Experiencing Educational Instability

    Pennsylvania students who experience “education instability” due to homelessness, involvement in the foster care or juvenile justice systems, or court-ordered placements, are entitled to additional support under a new law called Act 1 of 2022.  This law seeks to remove educational and graduation barriers for students who experience one or more school changes during a single school year. These students are often unable to fully participate in school and are unable to graduate on time due to lost or unrecognized credits or a student’s inability to take a course required by their last school.

    Learn more about students’ rights under Act 1 in an Education Law Center fact sheet here and review the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s interim guidance on Act 1 here.   You can also view a recorded webinar on implementing Act 1 co-produced by ELC and Juvenile Law Center.

    If a student you are working with has experienced education instability, you can use the tools below to advocate on the student’s behalf:

    Request Assignment of a Point of Contact: Under Act 1, students are assigned a Point-of-Conduct designated by the school the student currently attends. This Point of Contact ensures that all students are able to fully participate in school activities and provides additional support for high school students, including assessing credits, considering whether certain credits may be waived, and developing an individualized Graduation Plan.  Use this tool if the student has not been assigned a Point of Contact.

    Request Credit Assessment and/or Graduation Plan: High school students receive special support under Act 1. These students must receive a credit assessment, a process through which a school must now award full or partial credit for all work satisfactorily completed in a prior school, including a residential placement. A current school can also waive credit requirements that pose a barrier to graduation for students. In addition, a Point of Contact must develop an individualized graduation plan for students who experience education instability.

    If a student is unable to graduate through their current school, a Point of Contact can request a diploma from the prior school. A student may receive a diploma from their prior school if deemed ineligible to graduate from their current school following a credit and waiver assessment and the student meets the prior school’s graduation requirements after the assessment. Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, students can also receive a state-wide Keystone Diploma. This option is only explored if a student cannot graduate from their current or prior school. A Keystone Diploma has the same force as a school-issued high school diploma and is not the same as a GED.  Use this tool to request a credit assessment, credit waiver, graduation plan, or related request.

    Request for Act 1 Graduation Support Retroactive to School Year 2021-2022: Act 1 eligible high school students are entitled to support to ensure that they can graduate on time. If a student was not identified during the 2021-2022 school year or was identified and was not provided with a pathway to on-time graduation, the school that the student last attended can identify a pathway to graduation during the 2022-2023 school year and issue a diploma retroactive to the 2021-2022 school year without requiring the student to complete additional work or attend classes.  

    These students can also be graduated from a prior school, if graduating from the school they last attended is not possible. As a last resort, if a student cannot graduate from the school they last attended or a prior school, they are eligible for support to apply for a statewide Keystone diploma. A Keystone diploma has the same force as a school-issued high school diploma and is not a GED. Use this tool if the student was not identified or offered a path to on-time graduation last year.  

    Request to Participate in a School-Sponsored Activity or Extracurricular: Under Act 1, students who change schools mid-year must be allowed to participate in school-sponsored activities and extracurriculars if they meet “participation and qualification requirements.” Use this tool if the student is being denied the ability to participate in a school-sponsored activity or extracurricular.

    Request to Eliminate Fines or Fees: Students protected by Act 1 cannot be assessed fees or fines to participate in a school-sponsored activity or extracurricular or as a penalty for not having a uniform. Such fees must be waived. Use this this tool if the student is subject to a dress code fine or denied the ability to participate in a school-sponsored activity or extracurricular due to a fee. 

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  • COVID-19 school closures have had an impact on students in foster care. ELC compiled this resource of 5 important things for students in foster care and their families to know.

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  • COVID-19 school closures have had an impact on English learners. ELC compiled this resource of 5 important things for English learners and their families to know.

    Please note — this document is available in:

    Arabic

    Mandarin

    Nepali

    Spanish

    Vietnamese

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  • COVID-19 school closures have had an impact on students experiencing homelessness. ELC compiled this resource of 5 important things for students experiencing homelessness and their families to know.

    5 Things Students Experiencing Homelessness Should Know

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  • COVID-19 school closures have had an impact on students with disabilities. ELC compiled this resource of 5 important things for students with disabilities and their families to know.

    5 Things Students with Disabilities Should Know

     

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  • The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closures have reinforced the stark inequities facing children in Pennsylvania. ELC remains fully operational, working remotely to connect students and families with resources to help navigate this unprecedented crisis.

    We will be updating these education-related resources to help the community respond to this crisis.

    Find COVID-19 resources here.

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  • Bullying and harassment are pervasive problems in Pennsylvania, the United States, and even globally. Students who are bullied are at increased risk of experiencing health problems, academic struggles, and more frequently drop out of school.

    If the school knows that a current student is being bullied or harassed by another student at school, on school grounds, in school vehicles, at a designated bus stop or at any activity sponsored, supervised or sanctioned by the school, the school has a legal duty to investigate and take action to keep your child safe. The school should also provide your child supports and interventions when bullying or harassment occurs outside of school (including on social media) if it is substantially interfering with your child’s education or causing a threatening environment. This guide offers suggested steps to ensure the school fulfills these duties.

    Read the Parent’s Guide.

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  • The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s immunization regulations require parents or guardians of students enrolled in grades K-12 to have their children immunized against various diseases in order to protect the health and safety of all students. ELC has compiled a fact sheet to help families navigate these requirements.

    Please note – this document is available in Spanish.

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  • Learn about Section 504 plans. Read here.

    Please note – this document is available in Spanish.

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  • Read here

    Please note – this document is available in Spanish.

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  • This fact sheet provides an outline of the rights of English learners (ELs) and/or families of students with limited English proficiency.

    Please note – this document is available in Spanish and Chinese. 

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  • The Education Law Center and Juvenile Law Center have developed a fact sheet to explain important educational decision maker rules, including Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Court Procedural Rules (Rules 1147 and 147) requiring judges to appoint an “Educational Decision Maker” for children who have no parent or guardian to make education decisions for them, or when a court concludes that appointing an EDM is in the best interest of a child.

    In addition, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, school districts have a duty to appoint a “surrogate parent” for children with special education needs under specific circumstances.

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  • This collection of “tools” is intended to help parents and providers ensure school success for children and youth (ages 3-21) in Pennsylvania who are experiencing homelessness. The toolkit provides information about important laws and explains legal rights and how to use them.

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  • This guide provides clearly explained legal rules for special education and early intervention programs in Pennsylvania for children from ages three to 21. 

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  • Youth who are experiencing homelessness have additional rights under a federal law called the McKinney-Vento Act and rights under Pennsylvania’s Act 1, if they have changed school entities at least once in a school year due to experiencing homelessness. This fact sheet provides detailed information and resources for youth experiencing homelessness regarding their education rights under federal and state law. A sample McKinney-Vento complaint form is provided.

     

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  • Enrolling a child who is not experiencing homelessness or is in foster care: If a child is living with you and you are not with their parent, they have the right to attend school where you live if certain conditions are met.  Most schools have their own form to determine whether the child living with you is eligible to enroll in the school catchment where you reside. Check with the school first to see if they have a specific form they want you to use. If not, you may be able to use this form to establish that the child living with you is eligible to enroll in the school catchment where you reside. Your school district’s form will be similar to this.  Regardless of whether you use the schools form or the sample form above, the document you will complete is an affidavit (sworn statement), which means that you are certifying that all information you provide on the form is correct. NOTE: You can face legal penalties if you knowingly complete an affidavit form using false information to enroll a child into school.

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Ensuring Equal Access

Trainings

Ensuring Equal Access

Professional Toolkits

  • Students experiencing homelessness are entitled to additional educational protections under the federal McKinney-Vento Act and Pennsylvania’s Act 1. Local Education Agencies (LEA) have an affirmative legal duty to identify and recognize students who are experiencing homelessness as McKinney-Vento eligible. In addition, school entities have an additional legal obligation to also proactively identify McKinney-Vento eligible students who have changed school entities at least once in a school year as Act 1 eligible. This tool can be used to help determine whether a student is McKinney-Vento and Act 1 eligible and to flag key supports students are entitled to receive on the basis of their eligibility.  Download here.

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  • Court-appointed Educational Decision Makers (EDMs) can have an enormously positive impact on the educational outcomes of children and youth in dependency system. Together with school personnel, child welfare professionals, and others, they can work to ensure that students who are in dependent care have school stability, achieve academic success, and have access to needed services. This collection of “Tools” is intended to help Pennsylvania CASA programs train new EDM volunteers and to provide an ongoing resource for EDMs as questions and challenges arise in their work. The Toolkit provides checklists, suggestions, and resources to help EDMs address a range of education issues including enrollment, access to special education services, and school discipline.

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  • This toolkit, released in October 2016, is designed to help Pennsylvania youth with disabilities who are in the foster care or juvenile justice system to prepare for Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. Although this toolkit is aimed at youth in foster care or the juvenile justice system, who often lack engaged adults to advocate for them at IEP meetings, it can be used by any teenager receiving special education. The toolkit was collaboratively produced by Education Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and Disability Rights Pennsylvania.

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  • This collection of “tools” is intended to help parents and providers ensure school success for children and youth (ages 3-21) in Pennsylvania who are experiencing homelessness. The toolkit provides information about important laws and explains legal rights and how to use them.

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  • The Education Law Center is pleased to announce the publication of the second edition of A Family Guide to Inclusive Early Childhood Learning in Pennsylvania. This project has been supported by a grant from the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council.

    This guide is designed to be a quick and easy resource to inclusive early childhood learning programs in Pennsylvania for parents of children with developmental delays or disabilities.

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  • This 2009 ELC handbook for attorneys and advocates who represent students examines the law on school discipline in Pennsylvania, which derives from the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions; federal and state statutes, regulations, and case law; and policies of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, school districts, and individual schools.

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  • Youth who are adjudicated delinquent frequently encounter problems in obtaining appropriate education services in placement, as well as when they are released and reintegrated into their communities. This 2009 Toolkit from the Education Law Center provides the basic information and resources needed to help juvenile probation officers and other juvenile justice professionals overcome these problems.

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