For immediate release: April 3, 2020
Following a March letter on concerns of educational equity signed by more than 80 organizations, a letter from the Education Law Center this week is urging Gov. Wolf and Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera to provide “clear, detailed guidance” to school districts on what steps they can take to ensure that all student populations are being supported in their education during COVID-19 school closures.
The latest letter highlights innovative strategies and promising practices that, if promoted by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, could help ensure equitable access to education for underserved student populations – including children with disabilities, English learners, children of color, children experiencing homelessness, children living in poverty, and children in the child welfare, juvenile justice and mental health systems.
“COVID-19 school closures present exceptional and daunting challenges for school administrators, teachers, staff, students and parents, as well as the Department,” the letter said, applauding state officials for their efforts to ensure continuity of education. “Your guidance at this time is essential to enabling our schools to meet these challenges as school districts, charter schools, and Intermediate Units work vigorously to meet the needs of their students.”
Detailed guidance from PDE is needed to “ensure … compliance with federal protections for vulnerable student populations, provide needed support to students and parents, and deliver individualized programming and a free appropriate public education for students with disabilities,” the letter says.
Legislation recently signed into law by Gov. Wolf, Act 13, instructs PDE to provide guidance to districts on what it means to ensure “continuity of education.” ELC’s letter asks PDE to encourage schools to provide planned instruction, rather than solely enrichment activities, and points to Pennsylvania districts that are doing so.
The letter also highlights specific strategies and recommended procedures for providing individualized planning for students with disabilities and equitable access for English learners and students experiencing homelessness, as well as ensuring continuity of education for system-involved youth in residential placements.
“We are hopeful that PDE will provide clear, detailed guidance to districts to help ensure our most underserved students can access education during COVID-19 school closures” says ELC’s legal director Maura McInerney.