New Tools (and a Webinar) to Support Students Experiencing Educational Instability

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. 

Pennsylvania School Funding Litigation: Frequently Asked Questions

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.

COVID-19 School Closures: General Information

All children are entitled to a quality public education. ELC is working to support students and families in understanding their rights and assisting them in finding the help they need during the COVID-19 crisis. This resource contains general information for Pennsylvania families.

ELC’s COVID-19 Response 

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.

Toxic Schools: What Parents Need to Know – Fact Sheet

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.

What to Do When Your Child is Bullied or Harassed: A Parent’s Guide to Advocacy in PA Public Schools

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.

Immunization Fact Sheet

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.

ELC Fact Sheet : Act 26

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.

ELC Fact Sheet: Education Decision Makers

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.

ELC Toolkit: School Success for Students Without Homes

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.

The Rights of Students Experiencing Homelessness

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.

 

ELC Expulsions in Pennsylvania Fact Sheet

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.