August 2020
Confronting the Challenge of Schooling in a Pandemic
Whether and how to open schools safely amid a raging pandemic is a question on everyone’s minds across Pennsylvania. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are among districts that have decided to open the school year online for safety reasons; some districts are developing hybrid options.

But big changes are needed. We saw grave shortcomings with remote learning in the spring, with research showing that Black, Latinx, and low-income students bore the brunt of this, receiving fewer educational services and supports. Underfunded school districts are struggling to address these needs with strained budgets.

ELC has developed a checklist for advocates, policymakers, and school leaders to focus attention on an array of equity issues that have emerged or been exacerbated as schools try to implement some form of online instruction. We have also submitted these concerns as testimony for hearings of the PA House Education Committee and the PA Senate Democratic Policy Committee.
Calling for Equitable "Re-Opening" With PA Auditor General
ELC attorney Paige Joki participated in a Facebook live conversation about school reopening with Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on July 16, drawing over 9,400 viewers.

Paige emphasized the importance of centering equity in reopening plans and called for schools to address the historic impact and current legacies of anti-Black racism that deprive children of equal access to an education. “A return to normal is actually not appropriate,” she said. “What we need is to move forward and move towards equity. We shouldn’t be moving towards the romanticized past that has never served students and is propped up by systems of white supremacy.”

Paige also discussed the need for all schools to prioritize heeding public health guidance, to be flexible and transparent with families, and to ensure families have access to real-time information about reopening.
Plans for More Federal Education Funding - With Strings Attached
U.S. Senate Republicans unveiled a new COVID relief package that contains $70 billion for K-12 schools. That proposal is considerably smaller than a House-passed relief bill, which also includes funds for school infrastructure, internet access, and aid to state and local governments to avoid future budget cuts.

Additional federal education funding is a critical stopgap for Pennsylvania schools. Statewide revenue losses and increased costs related to COVID are projected to be even higher than the Senate’s proposed increase. The effects of this financial crunch will be felt most by Black and Brown students — more likely to attend schools denied adequate funding and to live in communities hard-hit by COVID-19 — and by students in low-wealth communities.

The Senate proposal has also raised concerns that it would divert needed resources from public schools while also imposing unreasonable requirements for in-person instruction on schools. Under the Senate proposal, two-thirds of the money available would be awarded based on “certain minimum opening requirements” and other criteria. Funding under the proposal would also be made available to nonpublic schools.

The funding proposed in the Senate bill is insufficient. As negotiations continue in Washington, please join us and our statewide partners at PA Schools Work to email our senators and let them know that our students urgently need a more generous aid package for schools.
Progress in Our Fair Funding Lawsuit
Our fair funding case continues to move forward in Commonwealth Court, with a trial tentatively scheduled for late 2020 or early 2021. Our legal team (ELC, Public Interest Law Center, and O’Melveny & Myers LLP) was pleased with the court ruling issued on July 24 granting our petitioners’ request to depose Secretary Pedro Rivera about his time as superintendent of Lancaster School District, during which Lancaster became a petitioner in the case.

The same order authorizes state legislative leaders to question Rivera regarding public statements he has made on the funding of public education in the Commonwealth. In addition, the order grants newly elected Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler's request to serve written discovery on Gov. Wolf about his public statements concerning the funding of public education in the Commonwealth.

Coming up: Oral argument (online) on August 6 at 10 a.m. to address whether Speaker Cutler and Rep. Stanley E. Saylor, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, can be deposed, as our petitioners have sought. Primary expert reports must be served by both parties this month, followed by rebuttal reports, which are due on September 14.
Movement for Police Free Schools Accelerates
The movement for police-free schools is advancing at the federal, state, and local levels. ELC joined with civil rights organizations around the country in endorsing the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act — Congressional legislation that would prohibit federal funds for police in schools and divert resources towards the use of counselors, social workers, and other services and supports.

Here in Pennsylvania, ELC elevated student voices calling for state-level change in a virtual town hall moderated by state Rep. Sara Innamorato and in partnership with GirlGov, 1Hood, Gwen’s Girls, and Black, Young & Educated. And locally, ELC and the COPS OUT coalition continued to keep pressure on Pittsburgh Public Schools in our public testimony calling for police-free schools and opposing the criminalization of young people. (Pictured above: ELC attorney Cheryl Kleiman speaking at a COPS OUT rally in June.)

Nationally, the Education Civil Rights Alliance reports that 29 communities have ended existing school policing programs, and more than 100 other communities, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with campaigns to do so, led by Black and Brown students. Meanwhile, new research from ACLU of Pennsylvania finds no conclusive evidence that school resource officers reduce crime or prevent school shootings.
ELC Joins Challenge to New Title IX Rule
ELC joined other civil rights organizations in signing on to two federal court amicus briefs (Southern District of New York and Massachusetts) that seek to enjoin the new Title IX rules from going into effect in mid-August. In June, Pennsylvania joined 17 other states and the District of Columbia to challenge the revised rules which threaten to reverse decades of effort to redress sexual harassment in schools and preserve equal access to education resources and opportunities.

These revised regulations address “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance.” The briefs assert that the new rule, aimed at redressing sexual harassment in schools, fails to address bias, stereotypes, discrimination, and racism in Title IX proceedings and undermines the ability of students to report and ensure a full investigation of complaints.

We also contend that the new rule’s transformation of the Title IX sexual harassment investigation process into quasi-criminal proceedings will have a particularly chilling effect on students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as LGBTQ. The briefs underscore how Title IX remains under-utilized and is the only recourse for many students of color and youth who identify as LGBTQ, as law enforcement is often not a viable reporting option. ELC previously submitted similar comments to the then-proposed Title IX rule in January 2019.
Support for English Learner Families Needed in Reopening Plans
ELC submitted a letter to the School District of Philadelphia raising concerns and providing recommendations about virtual instruction for English learners in the upcoming school year. ELC has worked with its Philadelphia-based partners to identify the challenges English learners and limited English proficient families experienced with remote instruction last spring, such as assignments not being translated, reopening communications not being available in families’ preferred languages, and students not being able to communicate easily with ESOL teachers. The current reopening plans from the district fail to sufficiently address these and other concerns.

ELC supports the district’s efforts to prioritize the mental and physical health and safety of its students and eliminate racist practices. More support is also necessary for limited English proficient students and families to ensure educational equity across district schools this fall. ELC will continue our advocacy with the district on these issues.
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We're Hiring a Policy Director!
ELC seeks an experienced professional for a full-time policy advocacy position in our Philadelphia office. The candidate should have a demonstrated commitment to public interest law, racial justice, civil rights, and advancing the rights of underserved populations. Please click here to learn more about the position.
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