School Reform Commission approves new in-house special education program: The District downscaled the proposal after advocates complained, but concerns linger.

July 6, 2017 — Philadelphia Public School Notebook — by Dale Mezzacappa and Avi Wolfman-Arent

The School Reform Commission voted Thursday to establish a new in-house special education program for 100 students, most diagnosed with social-emotional disabilities and now placed in facilities run by Wordsworth. The new program will be run initially by the private education provider Catapult Learning before transitioning to full District control.

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

Important Victory for Parents with Limited English Proficiency and their Children with Disabilities, as Lawsuit against the School District of Philadelphia Moves Forward

December 2, 2016

Philadelphia, Pa. –  A federal class action lawsuit challenging the failure a major school district to provide translation and interpretation services to limited English proficient parents of children with disabilities is moving forward.  This week a federal judge soundly rejected a request by the School District of Philadelphia to throw out any of the seven claims asserted against them in a case involving more than a thousand children with disabilities whose parents speak little or no English. The case will now proceed with fact discovery and class certification proceedings.

The lawsuit filed in 2015 by the Public Interest Law Center, the Education Law Center-PA, and Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP alleges that parents and their children are illegally denied the opportunity to participate in the special education process and receive critical services because they don’t understand or speak English and are provided with documents in English that they don’t understand. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs’ claims of national origin discrimination.

Under federal disability law, children with disabilities are entitled to an educational planning process, including meetings and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), to ensure they receive a free and appropriate public education. The complaint alleges that the School District refuses to sufficiently interpret the meetings or translate the documents related to this process in a timely manner, preventing parents from meaningfully participating in making informed decisions regarding educational placements and services. The complaint further alleges that as of the 2013-14 school year, there were 1,500 students learning English who received special education services, and 1,887 students with IEPs who spoke a language other than English at home.

The School District sought to dismiss every count of the complaint, including claims brought under laws protecting children with disabilities and those protecting against discrimination based on national origin. The Court denied the motion in its entirety, holding that the plaintiffs had stated valid legal claims.

“This decision is a profoundly moving one for me,” said Anna Perng, an activist in the Asian American community who assists limited English proficient parents. “I grew up with a learning disability. My immigrant parents were not able to get me services and supports due to lack of interpretation and translation in the IEP process. Today, I run a monthly support group for immigrant parents to help them advocate for their children with disabilities. I applaud the Public Interest Law Center, Education Law Center and Drinker Biddle & Reath for fighting to ensure that all students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education. We are one step closer to realizing the promise of federal special education law: all means all.”

“This decision stands for a proposition enshrined in the civil rights laws of our country, that parents and children who do not speak English have the same rights to participate in our education system as those who do, ” said Michael Churchill, of Counsel at the Public Interest Law Center.

“This case is about the critical need for translation and interpretation services during the special education process,” said Chanda A. Miller, a Drinker Biddle attorney who argued the case before the Court in September. “We are pleased that the Court has ordered this case to go forward, so that one day all parents in the School District of Philadelphia, regardless of their English proficiency, may have the same opportunities to participate in their children’s special education plans.”

The U.S. Department of Education is closely following the case and previously issued a “Dear Colleague” letter in response to DOJ’s filing, clarifying that state educational agencies and school districts have “independent responsibilities to provide LEP parents of children with disabilities meaningful access through timely and complete translation and oral interpretation.”

“This is a potentially precedent-setting case that is being watched in other jurisdictions,” said Maura McInerney, Senior Attorney at Education Law Center-PA. “The Court’s ruling sends an important message that our disability and civil rights laws create enforceable protections and that all parents — including those with limited English proficiency — have an unequivocal right to meaningful participation in the special education process.  They cannot be discriminated against on the basis of language and national origin and their children have a right to equal educational opportunities.”

The lawsuit builds from two administrative special education hearings during which the hearing officer found that the District had violated the rights of the students and parents to meaningfully participate in their children’s education. However, the hearing officer stated that he lacked the authority to order systemic change to remedy the situation.

The complaint asks the Court to order the District to provide complete and timely translations of special education documents; to notify parents that they are entitled to such documents in their native language; to provide sufficient oral interpretation services for key encounters pertaining to special education services; and to provide bilingual evaluations for all students who need them.

Parents of children with disabilities who have not had educational documents translated for them should contact the Education Law Center at 215-346-6905 or the Public Interest Law Center at 215-627-7100.


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The Public Interest Law Center uses high-impact legal strategies to improve the well-being and life prospects of vulnerable populations by ensuring they have access to fundamental resources including a high-quality public education, access to health care, employment, housing, safe and healthy neighborhoods and the right to vote. For more information visit or on Twitter @PubIntLawCtr.

The Education Law Center-PA works to ensure that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education, including children living in poverty, children of color, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, children with disabilities, English language learners, and children experiencing homelessness. For more information, visit https://elc-pa.orgor follow @edlawcenterpa on Twitter.

Philadelphia is making pre-K available for thousands of families

The best gift you can give your young child is quality early learning. Quality PreK sets your child on a path to being more likely to graduate from high school, reduces the likelihood of needing special education services, and raises achievement in school and life.

Education Law Center applauds the City of Philadelphia for expanding quality Pre-Kindergarten programs across the City providing 2,000 more slots for three- and four-year olds starting January 4, 2017.  To be eligible, a child must have turned 3 by September 1, 2016 who be a resident of the City of Philadelphia.

Families interested in enrolling their child can call 844-PHL-PREK to speak with a trained professional who will help you locate quality Pre-K programs and child care options near you and determine whether you qualify for public programs to help pay for child care. Over the next four years the City will create a total of 6,500 locally-funded, quality pre-K seats. For more information, go to, or enroll by calling 844-PHL-PREK.

English learners caught in competition for funding

Oct. 20, 2016 – The Philadelphia Public School Notebook – by Bill Hangley, Jr.

This year brought some good news for Katie Christ.

“I finally got textbooks!”

That’s a welcome addition to Christ’s high school classroom in Delaware County’s William Penn School District, where she’s taught students who are learning English for 11 years.

But new textbooks are just the start of what she needs for her English learner (EL) classes. For other needed materials – novels and short stories, online language instruction, computers, snacks –  she’ll keep doing what she’s always done: find freebies on the internet, borrow from the English or history departments, raise private donations, or pay from her own pocket.

“I don’t mind spending the money when I see the outcomes,” said Christ, who estimates she spends $1,000 of her own money a year and raises about $3,000 more online.

One online source of funds is a website where donors can give to classroom projects. “Without Donors Choose, I wouldn’t be able to do what I want to do,” she said.

And when it comes to the bigger things that only her district can provide – like more staff to support students, more time in the school day to collaborate, or a fully stocked computer cart – she’ll cross her fingers and hope for a better budget next year.

“I only have two computers in the classroom. One of them’s mine,” Christ said. “I had a computer cart, but they couldn’t handle the new updates. They were old when I first got them.”

Read the rest of the article at the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

ELC Statement in Reponse to Philadelphia’s Suspension and Dress Code Policy Changes

August 22, 2016

We commend the School Reform Commission for restricting the use of suspensions against Kindergarten students and for adopting a revised dress code policy that removes subjective language which disproportionately impacted students of color, especially black girls. These reforms place Philadelphia on the frontlines of a movement to eliminate ineffective and harmful disciplinary policies that deny children access to the classroom and place them at risk for experiencing future educational barriers. However, the resolution restricting the use of suspensions against Kindergarten students does not go far enough; the District should restrict the use of suspensions for students in first and second grade, too. Across the nation, school districts and states have eliminated or restricted the use of suspensions against students in early elementary grades. Minneapolis, Seattle, Chicago, Houston, Connecticut, and most recently, New York City, have all banned or substantially limited this harmful and developmentally-inappropriate practice. Philadelphia should be no different. Suspensions to students in early elementary grades negatively impact their future educational outcomes and fuel the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Furthermore, exclusionary discipline is meted out, both in Philadelphia and nationally, in a disproportionate manner against students of color. To reduce the harmful and discriminatory effects, the School District of Philadelphia must curtail its reliance on exclusionary discipline in the early elementary grades even further. We look forward to partnering with the District and the SRC to help it follow through on its stated commitment to end this harmful practice.

Click here to download our letter to the School Reform Commission.

Mayor Kenney delivers first budget address

Mayor Jim Kenney’s first budget address, delivered before City Council on Thursday, featured a number of initiatives revolving around “five interlocking programs” that will deliver the core services the new mayor said Philadelphians are calling for.

Continue reading

ELC is seeking to speak with families of students who have been harmed by the shortage of school nurses in Philadelphia

In 2013, the Education Law Center (ELC) issued a report highlighting the impact of sharp reductions in the school nurse workforce in the School District of Philadelphia. School nurses who responded to ELC’s survey shared vivid comments regarding their concerns. Since that time, the school nurse shortage has impacted thousands of vulnerable students.

The Education Law Center and Public Interest Law Center are exploring ways to remedy the current school nurse crisis in Philadelphia to ensure that every student has access to a certified school nurse. We would like to speak to families, parents, and students in Philadelphia who have been harmed by the shortage of school nurses. To file a complaint about the lack of school nursing services go to All complaints will be reviewed by attorneys at the Education Law Center and Public Interest Law Center. If you have additional questions or want to share your concerns, please feel free to contact ELC at 215-238-6970.