Pa. Department of Education finds Philadelphia School District Violated Rights of at least 800 Children Starting Kindergarten

The Education Law Center has successfully filed a complaint against the School District of Philadelphia on behalf of hundreds of students with disabilities who were not provided with needed services after entering kindergarten or first-grade. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has issued corrective action in response to the complaint, requiring the School District of Philadelphia to issue compensatory education services for all children who were denied a free, appropriate, public education due to the District’s delay and inaction. The Education Law Center applauded the Department’s findings and intervention but also requested further corrective action.  Here are links to read the Complaint and the Department’s Complaint Investigation Report.

Pa. Supreme Court Delivers Major Victory for Schoolchildren across the Commonwealth in School Funding Case

On September 28, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court delivered a major victory to hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania students by ordering the Commonwealth Court to hold a trial on whether state officials are violating the state’s constitution by failing to adequately and equitably fund public education.

The lawsuit – William Penn School District, et al. v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, et al. – was filed in 2014 on behalf of parents, school districts, and statewide organizations in response to the failure in Harrisburg to adequately fund public education and provide students with the resources they need to succeed academically.

In a sweeping decision, the Court agreed that it has a clear duty to consider the case and ensure legislative compliance with the state’s Education Clause, which requires the General Assembly to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education” for Pennsylvania’s schoolchildren. The Court also found no basis to deny consideration of claims by parents and school districts that the legislature’s grossly unequal funding discriminates against children based on where they live and the wealth of their communities.  Read the decision here.

“Judicial review stands as a bulwark against unconstitutional or otherwise illegal actions by the two political branches,” Justice David N. Wecht wrote in his majority opinion. “It is fair neither to the people of the Commonwealth nor the General Assembly itself to expect that body to police its own fulfillment of its constitutional mandate.”

“Today’s ruling ensures that our schoolchildren across Pennsylvania will finally have their day in court,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of Education Law Center – PA, which brought the suit along with the Public Interest Law Center and pro bono counsel from O’Melveny & Myers LLP. “We look forward to presenting extensive evidence proving that decades of underfunding and inequity in our public education system violate Pennsylvania’s Constitution.”

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s landmark decision today vindicates the principle that adequate and fair school funding is a constitutional mandate, not a political issue,” said Michael Churchill, an attorney with the Public Interest Law Center. “Now that the court has ruled that education funding is subject to judicial review, we hope the Governor and legislature will work with us and our partners to bring Pennsylvania into constitutional compliance by ensuring that every school has adequate resources.”

“We are gratified by the Supreme Court’s decision and the opportunity to take this case to trial, and we hope it will be a turning point for Pennsylvania’s public education system,” said Brad Elias, an attorney with O’Melveny & Myers who serves as pro bono counsel for the petitioners. “Our goal is to ensure that all children in Pennsylvania have equal access to a thorough and efficient education, and this decision brings us one step closer to achieving that.”

The case now heads back to Commonwealth Court for a full trial, which will permit advocates to present evidence proving their claims. Lawyers on the case will ask the court to expedite the trial, given the importance of the case.

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court dismissed the case in 2015, relying on an older Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision and saying that education funding was not subject to judicial review. Today the state’s highest court reversed that decision, and overruled that earlier precedent, agreeing with advocates that school children and school districts must be able to seek relief from the Courts to protect their rights to a quality education.

“Judicial oversight must be commensurate with the priority reflected in the fact that for centuries our charter has featured some form of educational mandate,” Justice Wecht wrote. “Otherwise, it is all but inevitable that the obligation to support and maintain a ‘thorough and efficient system of public education’ will jostle on equal terms with non-constitutional considerations that the people deemed unworthy of embodying in their Constitution. We cannot avoid our responsibility to monitor the General Assembly’s efforts in service of its mandate and to measure those effects against the constitutional imperative, ensuring that non-constitutional considerations never prevail over that mandate.”

The petitioners in the case are six families, six school districts – William Penn, Panther Valley, Lancaster, Greater Johnstown, Wilkes-Barre Area and Shenandoah Valley – the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference.

“Today’s ruling represents a major victory for civil rights across Pennsylvania,” said Pennsylvania NAACP President Dr. Joan Duvall-Flynn. “For too long, access to a quality education has been limited to those who live in the right ZIP code, leading to vast disparities that disproportionately impact African-American and Latino families. This decision presents an opportunity to dismantle barriers that prevent children of color from getting the education they need to succeed in the 21st century economy.”

“While our children struggle in schools without adequate technology, dedicated arts, music, library or physical education teachers, students several miles away attend school in modern buildings with the latest course offerings,” said Jamella and Bryant Miller, public school parents who live in Landsdowne and who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The court’s decision means that it’s time for our elected officials to address these devastating disparities by providing the funding our schools require to provide a quality education to our children.”

Given the dire situation many schools face, lawyers on the case will work to bring it to trial as soon as possible. Many schools have yet to recover from the drastic funding cuts of 2011 and still lack basic resources, including updated textbooks, modern curricula and school counselors. Compounding this issue, only 6 percent of the state’s education budget is being distributed through the basic education funding formula, which was adopted by the legislature in 2015 in an attempt to distribute funds based on actual student needs. Finally, modest investments in education over the past few years remain inadequate and the legislature has abandoned setting any goal for adequate funding.

ELC files PDE complaint to remedy deficiencies in transition of students from Early Intervention to Philadelphia elementary schools

ELC filed an administrative complaint with the PA Department of Education (“PDE”) on behalf of three individual children and all others similarly situated who have been deprived of smooth transitions to kindergarten or first grade in the School District of Philadelphia (“District”).  State and federal law mandates that children with disabilities must move from early intervention services to elementary school without disruption of the critical special education services to which they are legally entitled.  However, the District has failed to meet these requirements and ELC has asked PDE’s Bureau of Special Education to investigate and issue corrective action as necessary. Specifically, the District is required to (1) complete a re-evaluation of a child’s eligibility for services within 60 days of receiving signed parental consent, (2) provide a Re-evaluation Report to the parent at least 10 days prior to an IEP meeting, and (3) ensure that an IEP is completed within the 30 days of the IEP meeting. Additionally, federal law requires that children who have limited English proficiency are evaluated in their native language to ensure an accurate re-evaluation. If you or any families you know have had similar issues transitioning from early intervention to the District, please contact Sean McGrath at [email protected].  You can read a copy of ELC’s Complaint here.

 

 

Refugee education lawsuit will cost Lancaster schools more than $600K next year

by Emily Previti, WITF

The city of Lancaster resettles a lot of refugees for a community of its size, and various stakeholders have long collaborated with the district for school-based programs designed to help entire families from this vulnerable population.

So when the School District of Lancaster was sued one year ago, officials argued that they — not the courts — knew best how to deal with their own students.

But Judge Edward G. Smith found last year that the School District of Lancaster had violated the federal Equal Educational Opportunities Act by delaying or denying enrollment of older refugee students and diverting them to a magnet school with less support for English Language Learners than the mainstream high school and its Newcomer Program designed for first-year ELLs (formerly known as the International School).

And now, the School District of Lancaster is looking at spending more than half a million dollars, less than 1 percent of its $208 million annual budget, as a result of the lawsuit, according to school officials.

Read the full article at Newsworks

OCDEL Releases Two New Policy Announcements to Address Exclusionary Discipline and Promote Inclusion in Early Childhood Learning Programs

ELC praises the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) for release of two new policy announcements that now make clear its commitment to decrease exclusionary discipline and increase inclusion in all its early childhood learning programs across Pennsylvania. With ELC’s leadership and support for public comments and extensive parent, provider, and community engagement, OCDEL identified shared values and vision across its programs, and released these two companion policies, effective Jul. 1, 2017. Continue reading

City’s public schools, education beneficiaries of new state budget

by Stacy M. Brown, Philadelphia Tribune, Jul 8, 2017

After state lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a $32 billion budget that still has no defined plan in which to pay for it, many around the commonwealth have hailed the spending plan as a victory for public schools and for early childhood and special education.

Local lawmakers added that it’s a victory for Philadelphia area schools as well.

Continue reading

Education Law Center Statement on the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Proposed 2017-18 State Budget

June 30, 2017

PHILADELPHIA, PA – Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, released the following statement today in response to the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s proposed 2017-18 state budget:

“The Pennsylvania General Assembly has sent Governor Tom Wolf a compromise state budget agreement that provides some needed new funding for education, including basic education, special education, and early education. Specifically, the bill includes $100 million increase for basic education funding, $25 million increase in special education, $30 million in additional funding for early education, and a $19 million increase in funding for early intervention services for children ages birth-five. Our schools and students sorely need these resources now and the Education Law Center urges Governor Wolf to sign the budget into law. Continue reading

Education Law Center Opposes House Bill 383

Nonprofit law center sends memo blasting “guns in schools” legislation

Read the memo: Guns Don’t Belong in Our Schools

Philadelphia, PA – Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, released the following statement today in response to Senate Bill 383, which the full Senate is scheduled to vote on today:

“Everyone wants our schools to be safe for students and educators, but Senate Bill 383 does just the opposite and puts our students in danger. Guns have no place in schools, and arming teachers and other school personnel will not make schools safer while dramatically raising the odds that students will be injured or killed because of a fatal mistake.

There is not one credible national, state, or local organization that supports the idea of arming school personnel. Even the Pennsylvania government’s own research into school climate and school safety rejects guns in schools: a 2014 Pennsylvania House Select Committee explicitly recommended against arming school personnel, and the 2016 Joint State Government Commission Advisory Committee issued a lengthy report recommending changes to improve school climate that made no mention of arming teachers or staff members as a solution.

A recent amendment to the bill means the public won’t even know whether the teachers in a school are carrying concealed weapons.

If lawmakers are serious about improving school safety, they will instead invest resources into evidence-based programs that are shown to improve school climate and prevent violent incidents before they happen, including positive behavior supports, mental health services, and school counselors and psychologists.”

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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. For more information visit https://elc-pa.org/ or follow on Twitter @edlawcenterpa.

Letter: “Re-think placing children in a facility like Wordsworth”

May 1, 2017 – Philadelphia Public School Notebook – by Maura McInerney

Last week, nine members of City Council called on the city and School District to take immediate action to dissolve their contracts with Wordsworth Philadelphia in the wake of reports of horrific abuse at the facility that led to the death of one child and the sexual assault of at least 49 others. Continue reading