August 2019
Pittsburgh Schools Adopt New Procedures to Protect Rights of English Learners
ELC is excited to announce a recent settlement agreement with the Pittsburgh Public Schools on behalf of a Spanish-speaking student with a disability and her parents with limited English proficiency (LEP). The student, F.J., was deprived of appropriate special education and English as a Second Language services in elementary school. ELC asserted her rights and the rights of her parents to appropriate translation of critical special education communications. This case, which led to a significant compensatory education award for the student, built upon years of advocacy by ELC and its partners on behalf of immigrant and refugee students and families.

As a result of ELC’s advocacy, the district agreed to formalize its procedures for evaluating English learners with disabilities, provide LEP parents with targeted information about their rights within the special education process, and increase oversight and transparency around the district’s new policies and practices for family engagement. ELC continues to work with the Pittsburgh Public Schools and community partners in the Education Justice Network for Refugees and Immigrants to ensure these new reforms have a sustained impact for all immigrant and refugee families. 
New Guide: What To Do When Your Child is Bullied or Harassed
The pervasive issues of bullying and harassment are the topic of ELC’s new “ Parent’s Guide to Advocacy in Pennsylvania Public Schools ,” addressing students' and parents' rights and schools' responsibilities. For example, the guide explains that if the school knows that a current student is being bullied or harassed by another student at school, the school has a legal duty to investigate and take action to keep that child safe. The guide offers suggested steps parents can take to ensure that schools fulfill their obligations.

ELC’s Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader Fellow Lizzy Wingfield, who recently completed her two-year fellowship at ELC, created the guide. On July 30, Lizzy highlighted the guide as part of a Stoneleigh Foundation panel presentation about her work at ELC and the central role that bullying and harassment play as challenges affecting LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming students in school.
Lizzy Wingfield presenting on July 30 about her work at ELC.
ELC Responds to Gov. Wolf's Call for Sweeping Reform of Residential Placements
Acknowledging unacceptable tragedies and systemic failures, including the alleged   mistreatment of children at Glen Mills Schools ,   Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order on July 31, creating a new Office of Advocacy and Reform, with a new Child Advocate position to act as an ombudsman for youth in the state’s residential facilities. The order also establishes a 25-member Council on Reform, tasked with developing a report and recommendations by Nov. 1 to ensure the safety and support of children and adults in residential care. ELC and Juvenile Law Center issued a joint statement supporting the governor’s action and highlighting the importance of reducing reliance on residential placements and providing a quality education for children placed in such settings.
ELC Trains Girls on Education Rights
ELC attorney and Independence Foundation Public Interest Law fellow Paige Joki and ELC summer legal intern Nadia Lee provided a “know your rights” training for 17 girls who are part of an eight-week “Personal Development Program” at Evoluer House in Philadelphia. Our training focused on the education rights of girls of color in public schools, with information about school discipline, the right to be free of restraints, and policies addressing bullying, harassment, and school uniforms.

Students were eager to discuss their experiences at school and learn more about how they can exercise their rights and transform their schools into welcoming places where they can thrive. ELC is energized to continue partnering with Evoluer House as we continue working to advance the rights of girls of color at school.
ELC attorney Paige Joki (center) at Evoluer House.
Advocacy for State Education Funding Continues!
Advocacy for adequate, equitable state education funding is a top priority for the Education Law Center. Our concerns about funding inadequacy and disparities in Pennsylvania were highlighted in a July 19 op-ed in the Legal Intelligencer by executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr. Meanwhile, the fact discovery phase of our fair funding lawsuit continues, with a trial in Commonwealth Court tentatively scheduled for summer 2020. We also continue to work with the PA Schools Work campaign , seeking to win larger funding increases from the state and drive more dollars to the neediest school districts.

On August 15, Pennsylvania legislators will reconvene their Special Education Funding Commission, which revamped the state’s system for funding special education in 2013. The commission’s mandate is to perform a five-year review of the new formula put in place in 2014. We anticipate that the commission will collect testimony from advocates across the state. Having highlighted the inadequacy of state support in a report last fall , ELC plans to work with advocates to urge the legislature to make more significant investments in special education, particularly for the most underfunded school districts.
Defending the Right to School Lunch — Free from Lunch Shaming
We were appalled to learn last month that a Northeastern Pennsylvania school district threatened parents who owed schools lunch money that their children could be put in foster care — and then declined offers from donors willing to settle the debt. That district is now apologizing and has accepted the outside donations — but our battles over school lunch-shaming aren’t over.

As we pointed out in a recent letter to the editor , Pennsylvania took a big step backward this year, when the legislature passed language allowing school districts to engage in lunch-shaming by serving “ alternative lunches ” to students whose families have unpaid lunch debt. On the federal level, a Trump administration regulatory proposal to cut off food stamps to millions of families would also take away free lunch eligibility from thousands of Pennsylvania students. ELC is encouraging public comments opposing the change.
New Laws for Youth in Foster Care Receives Rave Reviews
Child advocates, youth, and educators have responded with enthusiasm to the news that youth who have been in foster care will soon be eligible for tuition and fee waivers to attend any public or private college or university in Pennsylvania. The Fostering Independence Through Education Act — which will go into effect in the fall of 2020 — applies to youth who were in foster care at age 16 or older and can be used for up to five years until a young adult reaches age 26. The new law, passed in June, includes critical points of contact and other supports for youth while in college.
Pennsylvania Changes Rules on Armed School Personnel
Last month, we told you about Senate Bill 621 , which broadens the categories of school personnel who can carry weapons in schools and was approved by the Pennsylvania legislature. ELC and CeaseFirePA had opposed the bill and urged Gov. Tom Wolf to veto it, and many of you joined us in that effort. We are disappointed to report that it was signed into law on July 2.

In a statement on the signing, we pointed out that both the bill’s prime sponsor and the governor stated that the new law excludes non-security personnel from being armed in schools. The bill, however, does allow school security guards , including personnel from private security firms, to carry weapons in schools. We maintain that by introducing more guns into schools, the bill will put students, particularly students of color and students with disabilities, at risk. We continue to urge Pennsylvania school districts to focus their school safety efforts on building relationships with and supports for students — not on arming staff.
Attorney Hetal Dhagat Joins ELC Staff
ELC is pleased to announce that Hetal Dhagat is joining us as a staff attorney in our Pittsburgh office this month. Hetal will support ELC’s litigation and policy advocacy across all our priority areas. Prior to coming to ELC, Hetal engaged in litigation and advised clients on issues of environmental law. She has represented families in immigration proceedings, taught English as a second language, and interned with the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago. Hetal is a graduate of Tufts University and the Northwestern University School of Law, where she was recipient of a Leonard S. Rubinowitz Public Interest Fellowship. Welcome, Hetal!
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