Lawyers from the Education Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and Dechert LLP filed a class action lawsuit April 11 in Philadelphia on behalf of hundreds of youth who were held at Glen Mills Schools, a residential facility located in Delaware County. This site, the oldest reform school in the country, housed as many as 1,000 boys from all over the country – and the world – at one time. After an emergency removal order of all remaining children at the facility as well as the revocation of its licenses by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, it is currently empty; these actions followed groundbreaking investigative reporting by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Lisa Gartner.
The legal team from Education Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and Dechert LLP
The suit maintains that these youth housed at Glen Mills suffered at the hands of Glen Mills leadership and staff. Instead of receiving treatment and services, as required by the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act, plaintiffs claim that they were subjected to extreme and sustained physical and psychological abuse and deprived of an education. The abuse had a particularly dire impact on youth of color – the vast majority of Glen Mills youth were African American – as well as students with special education needs and disabilities, whose educational and other rights were ignored.
The suit asserts that officials at the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Chester County Intermediate Unit allowed Glen Mills’ education program to operate in the shadows without any oversight or monitoring to ensure the educational rights of students. The suit also maintains that the persistent and barbaric abuse went unchecked due to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services “callous disregard for the safety and well-being of the children in its care.” PA-DHS is the body responsible for the licensing, oversight and regulation of child residential facilities in the Commonwealth.
Plaintiffs seek damages as well as other equitable relief for violations of their rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and state common law claims.
Read our press release here.
Read our complaint here.
Read press coverage of the lawsuit here, here, and here.
The PA Safe Schools Act, amended in 2010, requires all Pennsylvania school districts to draw up a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with local law enforcement agencies to govern their working relationship. The state then created a model MOU addressing school-police cooperation, which must be reviewed every two years and guides the drafting of local MOUs. In September 2018, ELC submitted comments on the model MOU to the Pennsylvania State Board of Education School and University Safety Committee, including recommended changes to avoid the overcriminalization of student behavior and the racial disproportionality in school discipline and police-involved incidents.
Public Source quotes ELC Attorney Cheryl Kleiman on whether or not arming school personnel increases school safety. Read more.
Triblive quotes ELC Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr on the legal implications in Pennsylvania of President Trump’s proposal to train and arm teachers with firearms. Read more.
ELC Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr writes about the bias in school discipline against students of color and argues that school suspensions in under-resourced schools often do more harm than good. Read more here.
The Education Law Center submitted testimony to a March 15, 2018, Pennsylvania House Education Committee hearing on school safety. We urge officials to reject militarized responses to school violence and to focus instead on strategies to foster a school climate that is supportive of all students and attentive to students experiencing trouble or trauma. The hearing comes one day after thousands of students joined the National Student Walkout, calling for action against gun violence. Read our testimony 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 (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.
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.
“We are the counter force: Four public interest lawyers on fighting racial injustice.” An article by Education Law Center’s Deborah Gordon Klehr, Juvenile Law Center’s Sue Vivian Mangold, Defender Association of Philadelphia’s Keir Bradford-Grey, and Community Legal Services’ Debby Freedman on fighting racial injustice.
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.
“I don’t think districts are off the hook from following civil rights laws.” Deborah Gordon Klehr, ELC Executive Director
7/17/2017 by Darryl C. Murphy, published in The Philadelphia School Notebook
Local advocates and civil rights leaders are preparing to be more watchful in response to the decision under the Trump administration to scale back the U.S. Department of Education’s investigations of civil rights violations.
The department announced in early June that it is changing its approach to dealing with discrimination complaints.
Through an internal memo, Candice Jackson, acting head of the department’s Office for Civil Rights, stated that investigations into systemic discrimination will no longer be required and cases will be treated on an individual basis. Civil rights advocates, including those in Philadelphia, say the new protocol could spell disaster for the nation’s most vulnerable students. Continue reading
May 6, 2017 – Philadelphia Inquirer – by Kathy Boccella
Loitering bands of aggressive, cursing students own the halls, constantly fighting or kicking each other. They slam teachers into lockers or walls. They barge in uninvited to disrupt classes. They tell adults who dare confront them to “get the [expletive] out of my face!” Continue reading
May 3, 2017 – WHYY Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane
Last year, the Philadelphia School District ended most out-of-school suspensions for kindergartners. However, thousands of elementary school children—first through fifth grade—are still being suspended. Schools have zero-tolerance policies for violent behavior, but most suspensions are for nonviolent offenses. Continue reading
May 2, 2017 – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – by Dan Majors
The pen may be mightier than the sword, but a pencil is not a weapon. Continue reading
May 2, 2017 – The Incline – by Sarah Anne Hughes
May 2, 2017 – Commonwealth Court issued a decision in S.A. v. Pittsburgh Public Schools yesterday that affirms the decision of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas that a pencil is not a weapon within the definition of the School Code or the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Code of Student Conduct. Continue reading
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
April 27, 2017 – Philadelphia Inquirer– by Kristen Graham
The Philadelphia School District should permanently prohibit out-of-school suspensions of children through fifth grade, a group of child advocates says, contending the district currently uses exclusion from school at “alarming rates” for its littlest learners. Continue reading