Fact Sheets

ELC’s publications provide a general statement of the law. However, each situation is different. If questions remain about how the law applies to a particular situation, contact us for a referral or contact an attorney of your choice.

Fair School Funding

Fact Sheets

  • The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, Public Interest Law Center, and the law firm O’Melveny have joined together to file a lawsuit on behalf of school districts, parents, and two statewide organizations against legislative leaders, state education officials, and the governor. We are asking for a court order that will force the legislature to comply with the state constitution and ensure that all students receive access to a high-quality public education. The case is scheduled to go to trial in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in October 2021. Here are answers to common questions about the case.

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  • Many children across Pennsylvania are suffering the health effects of attending underfunded schools. Deteriorating school buildings and cuts to staff have led to unmet repairs, deferred maintenance, and in some cases dangerous conditions in many school buildings. For example, in 2017 the School District of Philadelphia estimated that it will cost nearly $5 billion to address deferred repairs. The cost to our children is even higher. A Philadelphia Inquirer series entitled “Toxic City – Sick Schools” highlighted health threats identified in Philadelphia’s public school facilities. These threats included environmental hazards such as asbestos, lead in paint, mold and other asthma triggers. This is a guide for parents on these issues to understand their rights.

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Equal Access

Fact Sheets

  • 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.

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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.

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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.

    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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

    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. Several districts may also continue to offer virtual learning for students, particularly students with disabilities for the 2021-2022 school year. Under a newly enacted law, Act 66, some students may be repeating a grade this school year. While the timeline for selecting this option has passed, some local educational agencies are extending the deadline for selecting to repeat a year or permitting students with disabilities who aged out at 21 to remain in school during the 2021-2022 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 anti-racist 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 anti-racist 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 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 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.

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  • Learn about Section 504 plans. Read here.

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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.

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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 special rights under a federal law called the McKinney-Vento Act. This fact sheet provides detailed information and resources for youth experiencing homelessness regarding their education rights under that federal law. A sample 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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School to Prison Pipeline

Fact Sheets

  • This fact sheet applies to young children in all preschool settings in Pennsylvania, including child care and daycare centers, Early Intervention, Head Start, private academic schools (PDE-licensed preschools), and school district pre-kindergarten. If one of these school settings seeks to suspend or expel your child, here are some things you should know about your rights.

    You can learn more about those rights here.

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  • This toolkit was developed to assist families and advocates to respond to efforts to suspend or expel students. It applies to all public schools (including charter schools) in Pennsylvania. If a school district or charter school seeks to suspend or expel your child or send them to an alternative education for disruptive youth (AEDY) setting, you may find this toolkit helpful.

    Learn more here.

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  • In January 2022, the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted Act 1 of 2022 (Act 1) (24 P.S. § 13-1331.1), which seeks to remove educational and graduation barriers for students who experience “education instability” due to homelessness, foster care, involvement in the juvenile justice, or court-ordered placements. Act 1 of 2022 seeks to address these barriers and promote timely high school graduation and equal access to school engagement for these students.

    You can learn more 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.

    Download PDF

  • Children involved in the foster care system 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 foster care 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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  • This fact sheet is intended for Magisterial District Justices (MDJs) and other judges to use when adjudicating truancy matters under Pennsylvania’s compulsory school attendance law. It highlights key changes to the law in light of Act 138 of 2016, which substantially changed the truancy provisions of Pennsylvania’s Public School Code.

    Read the guide here.

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  • This fact sheet describes the process for determining if your child, as an English learner (EL), is appropriately and legally placed in an Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth (AEDY) program and, if not, how to return your child to an appropriate placement in your local school district.

    To learn more, click here.

    To learn more about general rights applicable to all students who may be placed in AEDY, see our Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth fact sheet.

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  • This fact sheet describes the process for determining if your child with disabilities is appropriately and legally placed in an Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth (AEDY) program and, if not, how to return your child to an appropriate placement in your local school district in the least restrictive environment. The fact sheet outlines special rights applicable to your child as a child with a disability ― that is, a child who has or is eligible for an IEP or Section 504 Plan.

    To learn more, click here.

    To learn more about general rights applicable to all students who may be placed in AEDY, see our Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth fact sheet.

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  • This fact sheet addresses your child’s rights if:
    • A school wants to move your child to a different education program because of discipline;
    • Your child currently attends an alternative school or program for disciplinary reasons; or
    • You are seeking to have your child return to a regular classroom from an alternative program.

    Click here to learn more.

    You may also be interested in our guides on Alternative Education for Students with Disabilities or Alternative Education for Multilingual Learners.

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  • This fact sheet provides information for parents and guardians on the rules and procedures for student suspensions in all public schools, including charter schools, in Pennsylvania.

    A suspension is an exclusion from school for one to ten school days in a row. Even a suspension for part of a day constitutes one day of suspension. A suspension may be imposed by a principal or other person in charge of a school.

    If a school district or charter school seeks to suspend your child, you can learn more about what to do here.

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  • This FAQ explains a law known as Act 110, which concerns students who are convicted or adjudicated delinquent of sexual assault. The law became effective on January 3, 2021, and does not apply to convictions or adjudications occurring prior to that effective date.

    This state law was enacted to protect student survivors/victims of sexual assault, and it applies to all public schools. The law requires a student convicted or adjudicated delinquent of sexual assault against a student in the same school entity to be transferred to another school, placed in alternative education for disruptive youth, or expelled from the same school entity under certain circumstances.

    You can learn more here.

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  • Act 26 is a Pennsylvania law which requires the expulsion for at least one year of any student who possesses a weapon on school property, at a school function, or going to and from school.  Many students have faced expulsion as a result of this law. Review the complete fact sheet for more information.

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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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  • A fact sheet providing information for parents and guardians on the rules and procedures for student expulsions from school district and charter schools.

    While public schools have wide latitude to create rules, they must follow their own rules. Thus, a school can only expel a student for a violation of a school rule if the school has officially adopted and distributed the rule. School rules should be listed in a published Code of Student Conduct that should be given to all students and parents.

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