December 2018
Across PA, Mobilizing for Fair and Adequate School Funding
ELC and our school funding advocacy partners hosted hundreds of community leaders across Pennsylvania on November 17 for “Communities United for Our Students’ Future,” the first-ever PA Schools Work summit. The event , designed to ramp up a statewide movement demanding more state funding for public schools and timed just after the midterm election, brought together superintendents, school board members, parents, students, and other local and statewide changemakers at eight locations across the state.

ELC executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr, policy director Reynelle Brown Staley, and staff attorney Cheryl Kleiman were among those leading discussions to plan the PA Schools Work campaign’s advocacy and communications activities for the coming months.  Read more on how to join this effort.
ELC staff and representatives of the Urban League of Philadelphia were among the 100+ participants in the PA Schools Work summit for Southeastern Pennsylvania in King of Prussia on November 17.
ELC Collaboration with City Theatre Highlights School-to-Prison Pipeline
Tiffany Sizemore of Duquesne Law School and ELC's Cheryl Kleiman led a November 15 discussion of the play PIPELINE.
Students, parents, and partners were among a crowd of 250 at City Theatre who braved Pittsburgh’s snowstorm on November 15 to attend a sold-out performance of the play PIPELINE and join ELC’s post-show discussion, led by staff attorney Cheryl Kleiman and Duquesne Law School Clinical Professor Tiffany Sizemore. Dominique Morisseau’s highly acclaimed, lyrical drama delves into the issue of the school-to-prison pipeline that ensnares students of color. At its conclusion, the play compels viewers to confront what role we all play in maintaining the pipeline. The playbill produced by City Theatre included ELC’s information and infographics on how Black girls and students with disabilities are pushed out of school and identified ways to join ELC in the fight for education justice. The post-performance discussion highlighted the work that lies ahead to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.
Opposition Mounts Against Plan to Arm School Staff in Tamaqua
ELC has expressed its opposition to a new school district policy in the Tamaqua Area School District allowing teachers, administrators, and other staff to carry firearms in school. The district, which is northwest of Allentown, is the first in Pennsylvania to adopt such a policy, and it has been met with opposition by community members and challenged in court by the Tamaqua Area Education Association. In a statement , ELC wrote, “The presence of guns in schools and arming of untrained school staff pose significant safety risks to schoolchildren and communities and are not authorized by state law.”
Advocacy Successes in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia for English Learners
Implementing new practices in Pittsburgh: ELC’s advocacy on behalf of an individual English learner with a disability has culminated in the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) Board of Directors voting unanimously this fall to adopt new districtwide practices to ensure that limited-English-proficient (LEP) parents have meaningful access to information about their child’s education. Our 2016 settlement agreement with the district in the individual case spelled out that ELC and PPS would co-convene a working group to evaluate district practices on language access for LEP parents in matters of special education and school discipline.

New practices , many of them already being implemented within the district, were designed to foster better communication between LEP parents and schools, provide training and engagement opportunities for staff and LEP families, and increase collaborations between the district and immigrant and refugee communities. We expect a formal Board policy in 2019 and will continue to work with the district to meet the needs of LEP students and families.

Ensuring bilingual evaluations and translation in Philadelphia: In response to a state administrative complaint filed by ELC, the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Special Education Bureau concluded that limited-English-proficient children transitioning to school age in the School District of Philadelphia are failing to receive bilingual evaluations, and LEP parents are failing to receive translated documents in a language they can understand. The file review for this school year disclosed that of 251 “Permission to Re-Evaluate” forms issued regarding children whose native language was not English, 217 were completed and only 94, or 43%, were conducted by bilingual psychologists . Of 25 randomly selected files involving LEP children, only one was conducted by a bilingual psychologist, and only one indicated that a bilingual counseling assistant (BCA) was a part of the evaluation team. Translated notices were provided to LEP parents in their native language in only two of the 25 cases. The state has directed the district to revise its procedures, establish a more accurate reporting system, and reconvene IEP team meetings for 123 students who failed to receive a bilingual evaluation.
Testimony to Philadelphia School Board Highlights Discriminatory Charter Practices
In testimony to a Philadelphia School Board committee on November 8, ELC policy director Reynelle Brown Staley urged the board to exercise a stronger oversight role in addressing discriminatory practices in Philadelphia’s charter school sector. Among concerns she highlighted were the underrepresentation of students with low-incidence disabilities, high suspension rates for students of color, counseling out of students, and underrepresentation of students of color and students from low-income families in some charters. In response to a request from school board members, ELC will be preparing a more detailed report on these issues in 2019.
PDE Orders District to Create New System to Protect Students with Disabilities Experiencing Homelessness
ELC has secured an important victory for unaccompanied students with disabilities experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia and statewide. As a result of a complaint filed by ELC with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), these vulnerable students who are under age 21 and living on their own will have surrogate parents promptly appointed to enforce their rights in the special education system. ELC filed the complaint on behalf of two students (and all others similarly situated) in the School District of Philadelphia who were not assigned surrogate parents and suffered severe educational consequences. Read more .
Historic 3rd Circuit Ruling Supported by ELC Amicus Brief Protects Rights of Students Experiencing Homelessness
The Third Circuit Court made history in affirming the rights of students experiencing homelessness by becoming the first circuit court to adjudicate a case relating to the educational provisions of the federal McKinney-Vento Act . ELC-joined by our pro bono partners at Morgan Lewis, the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and the People’s Emergency Center-wrote an amicus brief in the case on behalf of a student experiencing homelessness in the Rose Tree-Media School District. Notably, the Court included key phrases from our brief in affirming the rights of students experiencing homelessness. This decision marks a major victory for students living “doubled-up,” who comprise t he majority of students experiencing homelessness, but who remain critically underidentified and underserved by district and charter schools, which have a legal duty to identify and serve students experiencing homelessness.
Help Us Understand Credit Transfer Issues in Juvenile Justice
Researchers at Drexel University are conducting an anonymous survey to help understand youth experiences in transferring academic credits earned while in juvenile justice facilities. The survey, conducted in partnership with ELC, Juvenile Law Center, and Southern Poverty Law Center, solicits information regarding difficulties transferring academic credits earned while in juvenile justice facilities, the impact of credit transfer challenges on youth, and what policies and practices help to ameliorate those barriers. The survey is open until December 7 and takes about 10 minutes to complete. Participants must be at least 18 years old and have had professional experience working with youth in the juvenile justice system or their families. If you are eligible to participate, please click here to access the survey.
Can We Count On You?
We hope you enjoyed a happy Thanksgiving holiday. We are so grateful to you—our generous supporters—for your collaboration in ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education. As you plan your end-of-year giving, we hope you will consider a gift to the Education Law Center. Please give generously before December 31, 2018! Thank you.
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