In January 2019 testimony about English learners to the Philadelphia school board’s Student Achievement and Support Committee, Education Law Center Legal Director Maura McInerney brought attention to reductions in ESL instruction and support, barriers to special education evaluations and services, the failure to provide interpretation and translation services, and lack of access to special admission schools and post-secondary college and career readiness support. Read her testimony here.
ELC also joined with partners to submit a formal letter to the committee requesting a separate hearing focused exclusively on EL students. Read the letter here.
At the first Philadelphia City Council hearing since schools came under the tenure of the city’s new board of education, ELC policy director Reynelle Brown Staley gave testimony on November 27, highlighting the centrality of resource issues for the school district. “The fact that Philadelphia schools simply don’t have enough resources is in part a Harrisburg problem, but it’s one that we locally can play a bigger role in affecting,” she said.
Staley noted that meeting the educational needs of the district’s most underserved students – including English learners and pregnant and parenting teens – will require “significant funding commitments from the Mayor and Council as well as policy and practice changes within the district.”
Read our testimony.
The Annual Celebration will take place this year on September 26, 2018 at The Crystal Tea Room in Philadelphia. The event begins at 5:30 PM. We anticipate more than 300 legal, corporate, and community supporters joining us for a cocktail reception, silent auction, and dinner presentation. More details here!
WHYY reports on poor conditions in Philadelphia-area juvenile detention centers, quoting ELC Legal Director Maura McInerney. Read more here.
Public Source quotes ELC Attorney Cheryl Kleiman on whether or not arming school personnel increases school safety. Read more.
ELC Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr is featured in Generocity‘s article on women leading public interest law organizations in Philadelphia. Read more here.
ELC has long advocated for alternatives to out-of-school suspensions of young children; they are not age-appropriate and do not make schools safer. Suspensions of kindergartners were banned in Philadelphia in 2016. The District’s School Reform Commission in June 2018 formally changed the School District’s student conduct and discipline policy, extending the existing ban on out-of-school suspensions to cover grades 1 and 2. This means that students in those grades cannot be suspended unless it is shown that their behavior resulted in serious bodily injury. Read our release here.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has significantly broadened its corrective action in response to ELC’s administrative complaint alleging that the School District of Philadelphia denied young children with disabilities timely evaluations and special education services upon transitioning to Kindergarten or First Grade. In its prior Complaint Investigation Report (“CIR”) PDE required the District to determine whether it denied any child’s right to receive mandated services during this critical transition, and if so, to issue compensatory education to make up for lost services. At ELC’s urging through a Request for Reconsideration, PDE agreed to verify the accuracy of the District’s determination that 170 children had been denied services with a random file review. Recently completed, that review disclosed that the District failed to identify a significant number of students who were denied special education services. In response, PDE has now expanded its investigation to include an additional 1,795 students with disabilities who transitioned to school last fall to ensure that all children receive needed make-up services. ELC will continue to press PDE to ensure every child receives relief. The District is also required to obtain PDE approval for a new procedure to prevent recurring violations this upcoming fall. You can read the complaints filed by Independence Foundation Law Fellow Sean McGrath and PDE’s Investigation Reports here.
On Wednesday, March 14, students nationwide participated in a National School Walkout to show solidarity with Parkland students and bring attention to Congress’s inaction towards gun violence. View our National School Walkout Fact Sheet to learn more about this walkout and what your rights are as a student in Pennsylvania.
The Education Law Center sent an open letter to Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission expressing renewed concern about issues of equity and universal access at Philadelphia charter schools. Data from the District’s Annual Charter Evaluations indicate that vulnerable student populations are underserved by the charter sector. The letter endorses the School District’s efforts to build a more robust Charter School Office. Read more here.
The Education Law Center (ELC) has filed an amicus brief in Nicole B. v. School District of Philadelphia, et al., a case involving a Philadelphia student who was relentlessly bullied because of his race and nonconformance with gender stereotypes; the school failed to intervene and allowed the bullying to escalate from verbal harassment, to multiple physical assaults, and, ultimately, to rape. ELC partnered with the Public Interest Law Center and Juvenile Law Center in arguing that this student, and others like him, should have protection under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), Pennsylvania’s antidiscrimination law, when their school fails to intervene to stop ongoing harassment. “Unfortunately, the Education Law Center hears frequently from families about issues of bullying and harassment in schools,” said Lizzy Wingfield, ELC’s Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader Fellow. “The issue of unaddressed bullying is pervasive and is particularly common when the bullied student is a child of color who does not conform to societal gender norms or is LGBTQ. Too many people who should intervene to stop bullying view the harassment of gender nonconforming or LGBTQ students of color as if it is normal, so they don’t take it as seriously as the bullying of white, gender-conforming students. That’s why it is so critical that the PHRA is available as a tool to root out discriminatory pervasive bullying.” Read the news release here and the brief here.
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.
On November 28, 2017, the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) announced that it has opened an investigation into claims of discrimination filed by the Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) regarding the School District of Philadelphia’s treatment of children with disabilities who have been bullied and harassed. ELC’s Complaint, filed July 27, 2017, alleged a systemic failure by the School District of Philadelphia (“District”) to promptly and appropriately address pervasive and severe bullying of students with disabilities as exemplified by the stories of multiple students. Read the news release here.
On November 1, in a letter to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, ELC is requesting revision to the School District of Philadelphia’s proposed new Language Instruction Policy. ELC asks that the policy specifically reference LeGare protections that permit English Learner students to obtain modifications and waivers to access specialized programs and schools. Read ELC’s letter requesting revision of the provisions on page 5 of the proposed new policy.
On October 20, 2017, ELC released a statement on the Pa. Department of Education’s finding that the Philadelphia School District violated the rights of at least 800 incoming Kindergarten students. Read the news release here.
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.
PHILADELPHIA, PA (July 27) Yesterday, the Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) filed a Complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) alleging a systemic failure by the School District of Philadelphia (“District”) to promptly and appropriately address pervasive and severe bullying of students with disabilities.
“Sadly, students with disabilities are far more likely to experience bullying in school than their non-disabled peers,” said Alex Dutton, Independence Fellow at the Education Law Center. “Under federal law, these students are entitled to an educational program that enables them to make meaningful progress in school. Bullying of a student with a disability on any basis may interfere with this critical right, and school districts must promptly and appropriately address it.”
“The District’s failure to address bullying denies students with disabilities access to equal educational opportunities and is therefore discriminatory,” said ELC Senior Attorney Maura McInerney.
The Complaint alleges that in some cases, the District failed to respond to parents’ complaints about bullying for months and even years.
In one case, a third-grade child with disabilities was kicked and punched by classmates, causing a concussion, and repeatedly called derogatory names like “retard” and “dumb.”
Another nine-year-old child was repeatedly called “idiot” and “stupid” by her classmates, who told her they hoped she never came back to class.
The Complaint details how children who once loved school cried, shook, and begged not to go to school following months of pervasive bullying. Some of these parents asked the District to transfer their children to new schools, away from the bullying, but the District refused.
“What we see is that parents, having tried for months to get the District to do something, make the rational choice to keep their children home on days when they are demonstrating extreme aversion to school,” Dutton said. “Rather than intervene in accordance with federal anti-discrimination laws, the District’s response was to refer these families to Truancy Court, where the problem is framed as a failure of the family. This is not only discriminatory, it erodes any semblance of trust between District staff and the families they serve.”
Attorneys for the parents hope that the Complaint will result in the implementation of new District policies and training to ensure school staff promptly and properly intervene to resolve bullying of students with disabilities in an appropriate, non-discriminatory manner. ELC is also seeking individual relief for the named students.
The students in this Complaint are represented by ELC attorneys Alex Dutton and Maura McInerney. More information about the case and a link to download a copy of the Complaint are here.
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/NGC students, and children experiencing homelessness. For more information visit https://elc-pa.org/ or follow on Twitter @edlawcenterpa.
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.
On July 26, 2017, ELC filed a Complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on behalf of students with disabilities in the School District of Philadelphia, alleging discrimination based on a systemic failure by the District to promptly and appropriately address severe and pervasive bullying of these students. The Complaint chronicles the bullying of four students and explains how the District’s failure to respond to parent complaints, denying students the right to transfer, and referring students and parents to Truancy Court led to prolonged periods of pervasive bullying and the deprivation of free, appropriate public education to vulnerable students with disabilities. ELC is seeking systemic reforms to remedy the District’s policies and practices. You can read a copy of ELC’s Complaint here.
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.
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