View Section 504 Factsheet to learn about what a parent can do if their child has a health problem that requires accommodations in school.
The return of the School District of Philadelphia to local control and the formation of a nine-member school board over the next few months present a unique opportunity to put Philadelphia’s schools on a positive course. Based on our close work with Philadelphia students and families, we wrote the nominating panel and the mayor to urge them to prioritize five commitments that we see as key to the success of this new board. Click here to read the letter.
The Education Law Center-PA (ELC) is deeply concerned by ongoing racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynistic rhetoric and incidents in schools. We assure our partners across the state that we will continue holding school districts to their legal obligations to maintain a school atmosphere where students can thrive and do not face fears of violence or discrimination.
ELC remains steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania have access to quality public education. We advocate on behalf of our most vulnerable students, including children living in poverty, children of color, children with disabilities, English Language Learners, and LGBTQ students, to ensure that prejudice and bigotry do not impede their civil rights. We have been privileged to spend the last 41 years working on behalf of students and families and will continue to adapt to whatever challenges are to come.
We are reminded that the road to educational equity is a marathon, not a sprint, and we promise to continue working in the courtroom and in the community to protect the following rights of Pennsylvania’s schoolchildren:
EDUCATION LAW CENTER’S STATEMENT OF STUDENT RIGHTS
The right to be free from discrimination or harassment based on race
Students have the right to attend schools free of discrimination and harassment based on their race, color, or national origin.
The right to be free from discrimination based on disability
Students with disabilities have the right to a free appropriate public education and to be educated in the regular education classroom to the maximum extent appropriate for the student with the disability. Students have the right to accommodations in school and cannot be punished for behavior related to their disability.
The right to be free from discrimination based on religion and to wear religious clothing in school
Students have the right to practice their religion in school and must be allowed to wear religious clothing and head coverings.
The right to be free from discrimination based on immigration and/or English Language Learner status
Students have the right to enroll in public school regardless of immigration or citizenship status. Students who are English Language Learners have the right to programming that helps them overcome language barriers.
The right to be free from discrimination based on gender and gender identity
Gender discrimination and sexual harassment are illegal. Students also have the right to wear clothing consistent with their stated gender. Some Pennsylvania school districts have adopted policies to expressly protecting rights based on gender identity. Litigation is ongoing to protect the right of students to use restrooms and locker-rooms that are consistent with their gender identity.
The right to be treated equally regardless of sexual orientation
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer students have the same right to be free of discrimination and harassment as other students.
The right to be emotionally and physically safe in school
Students have the right to be free from bullying by students and adults, and students cannot be retaliated against for reporting bullying.
The right to freedom of expression
Students have the right to free speech and cannot be censored unless the speech is obscene, creates an imminent threat, or is significantly disruptive. This includes the right to publish articles in a school paper, to refuse to salute the flag, and to wear political armbands.
The Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) is a non-profit, legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education. Through legal representation, impact litigation, trainings, and policy advocacy, ELC advances the rights of vulnerable children, including children living in poverty, children of color, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, children with disabilities, English language learners, LGBTQ students, and children experiencing homelessness. Every situation is different. If questions remain about how the law applies to a situation or if you think your rights have been violated, contact us by visiting www.elc-pa.org/contact or by calling 215-238-6970 (Philadelphia) or 412-258-2120 (Pittsburgh).
Click here to download a PDF version of this statement.
May 15, 2016 – The Citizens’ Voice – by Michael P. Buffer
A Wyoming Area School District teacher compared making accommodations for a special-needs student to appeasing Adolf Hitler and suggested it “would be nice if we spent this much extra time” on students who are “going to amount to something,” according to emails obtained by the student’s mother.
The mother, Holly Miller, has been in a dispute with the school district for more than 19 months over the education of her 12-year-old daughter, a seventh-grade student with learning disabilities.
Maura McInerney, a senior attorney for the Education Law Center, said teachers sometimes don’t understand legal mandates regarding students with disabilities and don’t know how to deal with students with special needs.
“Teachers and administrators may not have a full understanding of a disability and how it manifests itself,” McInerney said.
The Education Law Center is a legal advocacy organization based in Philadelphia and is dedicated to ensuring access by Pennsylvania’s children to a quality public education.
The best approach for school officials and teachers is “a collaborative relationship with the family” when determining the appropriate education for a student with special needs, McInerney said.
Serino said she has been personally involved in issues involving Miller’s daughter, adding she had “a very productive” meeting with Miller earlier this month.
“I am willing to work with her and do whatever I can, and will continue to do so,” Serino said. “She is a concerned mother — I am never going to take that away from her — who cares about her daughter. I understand she wants everything that’s best for her.”
As a member of the Philadelphia Coalition of Special Education Advocates, the Education Law Center and other advocates filed an administrative complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Education to challenge the failure of students with disabilities to receive transportation services to which they are legally entitled under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The Complaint resulted in an investigation by the State and corrective action undertaken by the District.
Below are resources for families and advocates to help with transportation issues, including truancy issues, that may arise. You may also contact the Education Law Center directly by following instructions available here. You can learn more about ELC’s mission here.
The School District now has a Transportation Line (400-4350) and email address ([email protected]) to report issues regarding transportation.
In addition, here is some information from the District regarding how to obtain compensatory education services for instruction hours that your child missed due to transportation problems:
- Memorandum for families with instructions to resolve complaints – Dec. 1, 2015
- Compensatory Education Agreement
- How to submit a complaint to the Pa. Dept. of Education, Bureau of Special Education
State Complaint and Complaint Investigation Report Issued by PDE
- Coalition Complaint – Apr. 21, 2015
- Coalition Complaint – Jul. 8, 2015
- Pa. Dept. of Education Bureau of Special Education Complaint Investigation Report – Amended Aug. 5, 2015
January 6, 2015 – Philadelphia Daily News – by Ronnie Polaneczky
IN PHILLY, if your child is late to school often enough, you may be hauled into Truancy Court to explain why your kid isn’t in class when he should be.
If only the absences were taken as seriously when the lateness is caused by the Philadelphia School District.
Since September, Monica Klimas’ son Danny Gallagher has been late to Gen. Philip Kearny School countless times. That’s because the bus that picks him up at home in Bridesburg can’t reliably get him to Kearny, in Northern Liberties, in time for the morning bell.
“Look at this,” Klimas says, opening the log she has kept of Danny’s tardy pickups. Except for October, when the bus miraculously arrived within minutes of its scheduled time, Danny’s transportation has been as unreliable as a Comcast service call.
On two back-to-back days in December, the bus never came at all.
Some days, sixth-grader Danny, 11, has been as late getting home. One time, he didn’t walk through the door until 5:30 p.m. He was famished and rattled from the two-hour bus ride.
“His day was longer than mine,” says Klimas, an optician who works in East Falls. She doesn’t drive, so if the bus is running really late, it costs her $30 in cab fare to get Danny to school.
She has endlessly e-mailed the district and left unanswered voice mails. She’s also routinely hung up in frustration when the voice-mail box was full.
Klimas worries that Danny, who has Down syndrome and is enrolled with six other intellectually disabled kids in Kearny’s terrific new life-skills program, has missed out on critical class time.
Despite continual reporting of her transit problems to the district, including calls and emails on her behalf made by Kearny principal Daniel Kurtz and his staff, the unpredictability has persisted, Klimas says.
As I listen to this very good mom’s tale of torment, I think, “Man, someone really needs to talk to the Pennsylvania Department of Education about this kind of stupidity.”
Except someone already did.
Last year, the local Coalition of Special Education Advocates filed a formal complaint with the department on behalf of special-ed students whose education plans call for district transportation to and from school.
For years, parents had complained that buses were frequently late. Routes were changed with little warning. Drivers and bus aides were poorly trained to deal with special-needs kids. And parents couldn’t get through to the district for help.
So the state investigated, sending surveys to 254 schools to inquire about transportation services to special-ed students in the 2014-15 school year.
Among the 93 schools that responded, 26 had no issues. The remaining 67 reported that buses had failed 10 times to pick up a student and had been late to school 392 times.
Yep, those are real numbers.
The state has since expanded its survey to monitor transportation services to any school that provides instruction to any district special-ed student.
Meanwhile, the state has concluded that special-ed students who miss instruction or therapies because of transportation problems are entitled to “compensatory education services” to make up for the times they were denied a “free and appropriate public education” as required by law.
Last month, a letter was to have been sent to parents of all special-ed students to tell them that.
District spokesman Fernando Gallard was not aware of the state’s action, but conceded that the district’s goal is always to get kids to school on schedule.
“We’re definitely not meeting that [obligation] all the time,” he says. “The expectation is on us to get it right.”
Still, he says, “we’re dealing with a very large urban transportation system, almost like SEPTA, with 1,600 routes. There are going to be problems with traffic and bus breakdowns that cause late arrivals for students.”
Of the district’s 280 buses, 160 have GPS systems that track in real time a vehicle’s whereabouts, he says; buses provided by private transportation companies to the district are already equipped with the devices.
They don’t appear to have helped special-ed student Terrell Ward, an eighth-grader at Morris E. Leeds Middle School in Mount Airy. His bus service was so erratic that his mom, Tamika Ward-Andrew, was summoned to Truancy Court last fall for his alleged massive absences.
In truth, she says, he was routinely dropped off at school after roll was taken.
“One time,” says Ward-Andrew, “the bus didn’t show up for two weeks in a row; the third week, it was late every day.”
She contacted the Education Law Center for help, and senior staff attorney Maura McInerney was able to get the truancy case dismissed. But Terrell’s record still shows 88 late days and 25 absences – most of them filed in error.
“Our next step is to get the record corrected,” says McInerney.
Hearing these tales, I am floored.
Children thrive on routine and structure. And parents – especially those working outside the home – need a degree of reliability to keep family life from flying off the rails.
And for special-needs kids, says McInerney, the need for predictability is even greater.
“When a child’s class day is disrupted, they can miss more than instruction,” says McInerney. “For children with emotional-support needs, predictability is a critical issue.”
Lateness throws them a curve ball they can’t handle.
Monica Klimas and Tamika Ward-Andrew say their sons love school. And both moms are impressed by the quality and commitment of the special-ed teachers at their kids’ schools.
If only they could say the same about the bus service they rely upon to get them there.
Parents having problems with district-provided transportation can call 215-400-4350, a hotline established as a result of the state investigation. For help securing compensatory services for a child’s missed instruction, contact the Education Law Center at 215-238-6970 or go to https://elc-pa.org.
April 7th – By Jennifer Wright, The Daily Pennsylvanian – Penn students have the chance to be there for the best times in the lives of Philadelphia public school students. But a few have chosen to help with some of the worst. Continue reading
The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia filed suit in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on November 10, 2014 on behalf of six school districts, seven parents, and two statewide associations against legislative leaders, state education officials, and the Governor for failing to uphold the General Assembly’s constitutional obligation to provide a “thorough and efficient” system of public education.
Join Education Law Center attorney Maura McInerney as she presents a webinar for families of students with disabilities who are home schooled, educated in cyber charter schools, charter schools, private schools or parochial schools.
October 17, 2013 – by Michaelle Bond, Inquirer Staff Writer –
Parents and residents of the Coatesville Area School District testified at an NAACP public hearing Tuesday that the district had shown a pattern of discrimination against certain types of students over the years.
A guide to the enrollment rights of students who are homeless. These students have special rights under a federal law called the McKinney-Vento Act.
A basic guide to enrolling a child in a Pennsylvania public school, presented by the Education Law Center.
June 1, 2013 – The Education Law Center recently released a Spanish language version of its Family Guide to Inclusive Early Childhood Learning in Pennsylvania: Guía sobre el Aprendizaje Temprano Incluyente para Familias Residentes en Pennsylvania.
The guide is a quick and easy resource to inclusive early childhood learning programs in Pennsylvania for parents of children with developmental delays or disabilities. It describes eight different early childhood learning programs, including Early Head Start and Head Start, Infant and Toddler and Preschool Early Intervention, and Pre-K Counts, and provides information for parents on child development and how to find quality early learning programs.
The guide offers parent tools, problem-solving tips, and information about the legal rights of parents and children to early childhood learning programs. It also gives links to websites and other resources to help parents and others navigate the full range of early childhood opportunities in Pennsylvania.
The project is supported by a grant from the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council. The guide can be downloaded here or on the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council’s website at www.paddc.org.
The Education Law Center is available to provide free training to groups of parents, early childhood educators, social workers, and others on the entire guide or portions of the guide.
For more information or to schedule a training, please contact Nancy Hubley in Pittsburgh at [email protected] or (412) 258-2120.