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.
Research for Action and the Education Law Center have released a new report that presents simple solutions to making Pennsylvania’s special education funding more equitable and adequate.
As the state legislature’s reconvened Special Education Funding Commission develops recommendations for how to fairly fund the education of students with disabilities, this analysis suggests that:
- Pennsylvania align its Special Education Funding (SEF) formula with the formula adopted by the state in 2016 for distributing Basic Education Funding (BEF); and
- The state should increase the amount of dollars distributed through the updated formula.
Both the SEF formula (adopted in 2014) and BEF formula (adopted in 2016) apportion state aid similarly, based on both student and district characteristics. But the commission charged with developing the BEF formula determined that newer metrics would more accurately measure each school district’s wealth and tax effort. These newer metrics in the BEF tend to allocate greater resources to districts with higher proportions of historically disadvantaged student groups, including students receiving free or reduced lunch and students of color. The RFA-ELC report recommends that the Special Education Funding Commission incorporate these metrics in any proposed update to the SEF formula. Read the report here.
ELC policy director Reynelle Brown Staley testified to the Pennsylvania legislature’s Special Education Funding Commission on Oct. 8, as the commission wrapped up a series of hearings to review the state’s funding formula for special education.
Staley noted that it bears emphasizing that decisions about how to distribute funds cannot truly be divorced from the issue of how much funding is available. “When resources are scarce, decisions about how those resources are distributed can either sustain or debilitate a community,” she said.
ELC’s recommendations for making the funding formula more equitable included introducing some of the measures of district need that are used in the formula for basic education; adding weights to account for the unrecognized costs of special education services for particular marginalized populations such as English learners; and dedicating a bigger chunk of any funding increases to support the poorest, most inadequately funded school districts.
In a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf in June 2019, the Education Law Center urges him to veto Senate Bill 621, arguing that it represents a dangerous loosening of the existing restrictions on who can be armed in schools. Current Pennsylvania law already allows for school police officers and school resource officers to be armed in schools. The bill would give authority to security guards to be armed, including outside, third-party security firms.
ELC maintains that if this bill becomes law, it will exacerbate the current risks of having armed personnel in schools. We cannot afford to have any confusion about roles or accountability with armed personnel. “Armed school police officer” is not a role that should be contracted to outside private firms. The best school safety strategies involve investing in building strong school communities and strong supports for students.
Read our letter here.
In an April 26, 2019, letter to Rep. James R. Roebuck, Jr., Democratic chair of the Pennsylvania House Education Committee, ELC urges the defeat of a proposal to massively expand the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program (EITC). The bill won approval by the House Education Committee on April 29. House Republicans who have fought increases in public education funding did not hesitate to approve the bill despite a $100 million price tag in the first year and an automatic 10% escalator clause in each subsequent year.
Tax credits under EITC pay for student scholarships to attend private schools, including religious schools, without any restrictions on discrimination based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or socioeconomic status. Read more about why ELC opposes the bill.
In written testimony, the Education Law Center-PA joined with district students, parents, youth leaders such as the Philadelphia Student Union, and teachers, to urge members of the Philadelphia Board of Education to oppose a policy change that would mandate the use of metal detectors in all district high schools. The school board scheduled a vote on the policy change on March 28, 2019.
ELC explains that proposed amendments to the school district’s Policy 805 will perpetuate an alarming national trend of “hardening schools” — attempting to protect students through the implementation of policies and practices which are not only ineffective but create a more negative school climate.
Read our testimony here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This Pennsylvania Department of Education report offers 13 recommendations to build upon existing efforts and advance change within the state education system to meet the educational needs of Pennsylvania’s children experiencing homelessness.
The findings and recommendations contained in this report were presented to the Governor, the President pro tempore of the Senate, the Minority Leader of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, the chairman and minority chairman of the Education Committee of the Senate and the chairman and minority chairman of the Education Committee of the House of Representatives.
A 2014 ELC Fact Sheet providing legal guidance and resource links for questions about opting out of PSSA and Keystone Exams.
This guide provides clearly explained legal rules for special education and early intervention programs in Pennsylvania for children from ages three to 21.
Most of the law on school funding in Pennsylvania is found in the annual state budget, which is adopted by the General Assembly around June 30th of each year for the next fiscal year (which begins July 1).
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.
La guía es un recurso rápido y fácil a los programas integrales de aprendizaje para la primera infancia en Pennsylvania para padres de niños con retrasos de desarollo o discapacidades. Describe ocho programas diferentes de aprendizaje temprano, incluso Early Head Start y Head Start, Infant and Toddler y Preschool Early Intervention, y Pre-K Counts, y proporciona información para padres sobre desarrollo infantil y cómo indentificar programas de aprendizaje temprano con calidad.
May 2013 policy guidelines from the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning aimed at improving access to early learning opportunities for homeless children under the age of six.
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.
ELC’s step-by-step public school enrollment guide.
Note: A child can be enrolled by a parent, foster parent, guardian, caseworker or anyone having charge or care of the child.
In the nine years since Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), startling growth has occurred in what is often described as the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” – the use of educational policies and practices that have the effect of pushing students, especially students of color and students with disabilities, out of schools and toward the juvenile and criminal justice systems.