State bill would halt suspensions up to sixth grade

April 5, 2017 – The Philadelphia Tribune – by Stacy M. Brown

HARRISBURG — Year after year, African-American students and other minorities have faced much harsher discipline in public schools than their peers, based on information provided by the state Department of Education.  Continue reading

We’re committed to protecting students’ civil rights

November, 2016

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. 

ACLU and Education Law Center Sue School District of Lancaster for Illegally Denying Immigrant Youth an Education

July 19, 2016

LANCASTER, PA – The ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Education Law Center, and pro bono counsel Pepper Hamilton LLP filed a federal lawsuit today alleging that the School District of Lancaster (SDOL) has been illegally refusing to enroll older immigrant students with limited English proficiency (LEP) or diverting them to an inferior, privately operated disciplinary school, rather than allowing them to attend the district’s regular high school. The plaintiffs include six refugees aged 17-21 from Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burma who have fled war, violence, and persecution in their native countries. Continue reading

Opinion: Unless we’re careful, the new ‘No Child’ may still leave some behind

PennLive Op-Ed – Dec. 24, 2015 – By Deborah Gordon Klehr and Jackie Perlow:

Earlier this month President Barack Obama signed into law a comprehensive overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), previously known as No Child Left Behind.

First passed by Lyndon Johnson in 1965, the mission of this federal law is “to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.”

While past iterations of ESEA have failed to fulfill this promise, this month’s reauthorization offers states like Pennsylvania an opportunity to reaffirm ESEA’s central mission to advance educational equity and protect the civil rights of vulnerable students.

In several ways this reauthorization, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), represents an improvement over existing legislation.

It will provide targeted support to struggling schools, including schools where traditionally overlooked student groups consistently underperform.

The new ESSA does more to hold schools responsible for the achievement of English language learners, including those with disabilities, and provides significant educational protections for children in foster care and those experiencing homelessness.

The law also expands educational opportunities for youth in the juvenile justice system and supports their smooth transition both into and out of juvenile justice school placements.

In addition, we know that many vulnerable students experience trauma, and ESSA also takes positive steps to support schools to recognize and address trauma. We applaud these important new provisions.

However, the Education Law Center remains concerned about whether the new law has the teeth to guarantee a quality public education to our state’s most vulnerable students.

On its face, the changes in ESSA will do little to improve resource inequities, discipline disparities, or the lack of opportunities for educationally at-risk students in Pennsylvania.

Most worrisome, however, is the law’s lack of federal oversight and accountability.

Under ESSA, much of the responsibility for ensuring educational opportunities for vulnerable students has been shifted to the states.

Both current research and our experience in Pennsylvania show that when states are given unfettered control over education, the civil rights of the most educationally vulnerable students often go unprotected and their academic outcomes suffer.

We are concerned that without federal oversight, schools in Pennsylvania may ignore the needs of the educationally vulnerable students they serve.

In no area is this concern more pressing than when it comes to school discipline. Under No Child Left Behind, schools faced harsh consequences if students failed to achieve on high-stakes testing.

This focus on standardized test scores incentivized schools to push out the students who posed the greatest challenges.

At the same time, states largely turned a blind eye to the resulting discipline practices that disproportionately excluded students of color and students with disabilities.

While data shows that students of all races violate school rules at the same rate, black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students.

The consequences of punitive discipline reach far beyond missing a day or two of class.

Students who are suspended even once in ninth grade are more than twice as likely to drop out of high school.

We know that unless the state actively holds itself accountable for eliminating existing discipline disparities, discriminatory and overly punitive discipline practices will continue to act as barriers for our most vulnerable students.

While ESSA will not require Pennsylvania to address these disparities, it does offer an opportunity to do so.

Under ESSA, each state is charged with developing an accountability plan. This plan must include three academic factors and one non-academic factor.

The law permits states to choose “school climate” – a broad term that encompasses suspensions, expulsions, and removal to alternative education settings – as the non-academic factor in their accountability plan.

The Education Law Center urges Pennsylvania to take advantage of this opportunity and identify school climate as the fourth factor in its accountability plan.

We also caution Pennsylvania not to replicate the incentives in No Child Left Behind that drove schools to adopt exclusionary discipline practices in a failed attempt to improve school performance.

Rather, the state’s renewed attention to an accountability framework should address improving academic performance in tandem with addressing school discipline.

This opportunity is timely because the Wolf administration and the Pennsylvania Department of Education have recently announced plans to revamp the state’s current and flawed School Performance Profile metric, which often penalizes schools impacted by poverty rather than rewarding progress.

However, including this factor is only the first step. As the state begins the process of developing and implementing its accountability plan, it is vital that Pennsylvania engage parents, students, advocates, and educators in these decisions.

We urge the state to seek out communities and leaders with diverse perspectives and include their voices at every step in the accountability plan process.

Only by holding ourselves accountable for eliminating the barriers that harm vulnerable students and providing schools with the resources they need to support them will Pennsylvania be able to avoid the shortcomings of the ESSA and ensure that all students in the state receive the quality education they deserve.

Deborah Gordon Klehr is the Executive Director of the Education Law Center. Jackie Perlow, Esq. is the Kaufman Legal Fellow at the Education Law Center.

http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2015/12/unless_were_careful_the_new_no.html

Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance

Zero Tolerance For Zero Tolerance

The role of police officers in schools

November 3, 2015 – WHYY Radio Times

Guests: Kevin Bethel, Harold Jordan and Deborah Gordon Klehr

The nation was shocked by a recent video of a South Carolina sheriff’s deputy throwing a black high school girl to the floor and arresting her after she refused to leave the classroom. Since the late 1990’s, police officers have had a greater and routine presence in American schools. The result is a dramatic increase in student arrests and the rise of the disturbing trend called the school-to-prison pipeline. The effect has been profound among blacks and Latinos. This morning on Radio Times we explore the role of police officers in schools. Does their presence serve to remedy difficult situations or cause the escalation of conflict? We’ll talk with Philadelphia Deputy Police Commissioner KEVIN BETHEL, who works with the School District of Philadelphia and the juvenile justice system to keep students in school and out of court. He’ll be joined by education activist HAROLD JORDAN of the Pennsylvania ACLU, author of a recent report Beyond Zero Tolerance: Discipline and Policing in Pennsylvania Public Schools. We’ll also hear from DEBORAH GORDON KLEHR of the Education Law Center about the need for mandating training of school police officers.

http://whyy.org/cms/radiotimes/2015/11/03/the-role-of-police-officers-in-schools/#sthash.3MWxxzK6.dpufhttp://whyy.org/cms/radiotimes/2015/11/03/the-role-of-police-officers-in-schools/

ELC Webinar on School Climate and Discipline for Youth in Foster Care

Join ELC for this hour-long webinar highlighting current best practices, policies, and tools that can improve school climate for all students, and especially those in the child welfare system.  The webinar was developed for educators, school administrators, teachers, and advocates, and guides participants through the Legal Center on Foster Care and Education’s new tool on school discipline.

Continue reading

Philadelphia’s shift in discipline policy

Dec. 9, 2014 – By Dan Hardy, Philadelphia Public School Notebook – In the wake of the catastrophic Columbine school shooting in 1999, many school district leaders, politicians, and police summed up their response to school violence with two words: zero tolerance.

Infractions that once might have prompted a discussion of motive and intention instead often led to immediate, automatic suspensions, expulsions, and calls to police.

Continue reading

ELC Applauds Pittsburgh Public Schools’ New Code of Student Conduct

Aug. 5, 2014 – The Education Law Center applauds Pittsburgh Public Schools’ new code of student conduct, which reduces harmful zero-tolerance policies that disproportionally impact students of color and students with disabilities, while emphasizing greater protections and supports for English language learners, LGBTQ students, and parenting students.  The PPS School Board adopted the changes at its meeting on Aug. 4, 2014.

The new policy will go into effect when school resumes later in the month.

Continue reading

Proposed changes in Pittsburgh schools’ student conduct code emphasize progressive and positive discipline

July 20, 2014 – by Eleanor Chute, Pittsburgh Post Gazette – The board of Pittsburgh Public Schools will vote Wednesday on Code of Student Conduct revisions that replace zero tolerance with more discretion, incorporate ideas from a student-proposed bill of rights and provide explicit protection of students for sexual orientation and gender identity expression.

Cheryl Kleiman, an attorney with Education Law Center, which worked with the district on the proposal, said this version eliminates remaining zero tolerance policies and allows individual discretion.

Continue reading

What happened to Bache-Martin School?

May 16, 2014 – by William Bender and Solomon Leach, Philadelphia Daily News  – Fifth-graders have been sent to kindergarten. An eighth-grader was banished to first grade.

Draconian “behavior contracts” stipulate to whom certain children can speak and where they can eat breakfast.

These are among the incidents that have fueled concerns at Bache-Martin Elementary in Fairmount this year, and left parents asking: What has happened to our school?

Read the full story

 

Racial disparities in school discipline: A Radio Times discussion

March 31, 2014 – WHYY, Radio Times – New information released by the Department of Education shed more light on a disturbing difference when it comes to school discipline — minority students are suspended at a much higher rate than white students. The same applies to expulsions and harsher punishments and the problem is particularly acute in Pennsylvania. With more research to show that zero tolerance policies are ineffective, some educators are rethinking the whys and hows of school discipline.

WHYY’s Radio Times talks to Harold Jordan of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Deborah Klehr of the Education Law Center, and University of Pennsylvania education professor Matthew Steinberg about the issues around school suspensions, expulsions and even arrests, particularly when it comes to minority students.

Listen to the discussion.