December 2019
Toxic Schools Crisis is Also a Funding Crisis
In many districts across the state, students and staff are experiencing and speaking up about the harsh consequences of deteriorating buildings and hazardous school environments. ELC legal director Maura McInerney was one of the speakers at a Nov. 22 “Call to Action” in Philadelphia organized by State Sen. Vincent Hughes to highlight the environmental health dangers in school buildings and possible solutions.

“School districts in our affluent communities are able to have performing arts centers. They’re able to expand their sports programs and to have up-to-date science labs, while children in the Philadelphia school district are fighting for their very health and their very lives,” McInerney said. “We have a lot of children with asthma, which is exacerbated by high levels of mold in our schools. We have lead that is infiltrating these schools and undermining their ability to learn, and we have asbestos from crumbling school buildings, many of them over 65 years old. ... We cannot tolerate these gross disparities.”

McInerney highlighted as one solution the lawsuit filed by ELC and its partners that challenges Pennsylvania’s school funding system. Pennsylvania’s state constitution “requires our legislators to adequately fund schools, and also to ensure equal protection of all school children,” she said. The case is in the fact discovery phase in Commonwealth Court, with a trial now tentatively slated for fall 2020.

For more on the health effects of attending underfunded schools, check out the Inquirer “ Toxic City — Sick Schools ” series and ELC’s guide for parent concerns and advocacy on these issues. A coalition of groups has organized a rally in Harrisburg on Dec. 18 to demand emergency funding for school facilities.
ELC legal director Maura McInerney speaking at the Nov. 22 event.
State Highlights Student Protections in Alternative Education
Since the U.S. Department of Justice reached a comprehensive agreement in March with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), settling a federal civil rights investigation triggered by our 2013 c om plaint , ELC has been working to ensure that PDE and school districts across the commonwealth implement needed changes to the state’s disciplinary “alternative education for disruptive youth” (AEDY) programs.

PDE has just released new guidance that publicly advises parents, schools, and alternative programs of these significant reforms — including a new complaint process available to all students, a new program approval process and increased monitoring, a presumed exit date for all students, protections to address disproportionate referrals of students with disabilities and English learners, and new disaggregated data collection requirements to ensure that students are not discriminatorily placed in alternative programs by race, disability, or other protected status. Stay tuned for updated resources as ELC continues our work to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and end the pushout of students into alternative programs.
Task Force Calls for Sweeping Reforms of Residential Placement System
ELC is encouraged by the recommendations in the just-released report of Philadelphia’s Youth Residential Placement Taskforce — an important step in the reform process to reduce the use of residential placements and drastically improve the quality of education for youth remaining in placement. ELC served on the task force , which has worked on the recommendations since June 2018 and included child advocates and agencies, city departments, professionals in law enforcement and education, youth, and parents.

Promising recommendations include increasing supports in schools so youth are not referred to police and placement, and establishing local monitoring and oversight of education in facilities’ on-ground schools. The report includes some recommendations from the 2018 report on child welfare facilities, Unsafe and Uneducated , co-authored by ELC.
ELC Urges Changes to Philadelphia Bullying Policies
ELC attorney Kristina Moon testifying on Nov. 14.
Staff attorney Kristina Moon provided  testimony and r ecommendations  to Philadelphia’s Board of Education on Nov. 14 as it reviews its policy and administrative procedures to address bullying. ELC’s recommendations for strengthening the policy include (1) for students with disabilities, addressing any bullying complaints by convening their IEP or 504 Teams; (2) improving communication to parents at all stages of the process; (3) improving the investigation process; and (4) expanding district oversight and monitoring through public data collection, reporting, and analysis. ELC is in discussion with the district about possible revisions to the policy.

Bullying is a pervasive problem in Pennsylvania schools. Students with disabilities, LGBTQ students, and students of color often endure higher rates of bullying and harassment. A 2017 ELC complaint  filed with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) alleged that children with disabilities who were bullied and harassed in the School District of Philadelphia were discriminated against because their complaints were not appropriately addressed. This affected the students’ ability to receive a free appropriate public education. That complaint triggered an investigation by OCR and culminated in a resolution agreement with the district that awarded individual relief and required revisions to district policies and procedures.
Crafting Policy Strategies to Dismantle the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Policy director Reynelle Brown Staley presents testimony Nov. 21. Executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr sits third from the right.
What policymakers and educators should be doing to address the harmful effects of harsh and exclusionary discipline was the topic of a daylong briefing in Philadelphia on Nov. 21, entitled “Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline : Addressing the Disparate Discipline of Students of Color, Students with Disabilities, & LGBTQ Students.” The series of expert panels was organized by the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights . ELC executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr was an organizer of the briefing as a member of the advisory committee and will help craft a written report to the commission with key findings and policy recommendations.

In her testimony at the briefing, ELC policy director Reynelle Brown Staley highlighted several ways that local, state, and federal policies have blurred the lines between school and prison, including state and district use of zero tolerance policies and exclusionary discipline, presence of law enforcement in schools, and the absence of mental health supports. “We believe that changing the legal framework and policy practices for schools to divest from policing and move towards embracing all students in an inclusive and supportive environment would play a significant role in dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline,” she said.

Written statements and documents to further inform the advisory committee on this topic will be included in the briefing record if received by Dec. 23 at 5 p.m. Email materials to ero@usccr.gov .
Building Awareness of the Rights of Students in Foster Care
In Washington County, ELC collaborated with the Regional Foster Care Point of Contact for Southwestern PA and our partners at the American Bar Association on Nov. 19 to train school personnel, lawyers, and child welfare providers on the rights of students in foster care under federal and state laws. For example, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) promises school stability and immediate enrollment for all children in foster care. ELC attorney Cheryl Kleiman joined local, state, and national experts in identifying strategies and best practices to increase collaboration and improve education outcomes for students in foster care.
Promising Practices for Supporting Young People Experiencing Homelessness
ELC staff attorney Paige Joki spoke alongside national experts on a panel at the 31st annual National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth We the People conference in November. The session, entitled "Collaborating with Legal Aid Lawyers to Support Families and Youth," highlighted national and local efforts to advance the rights of young people experiencing homelessness across a variety of contexts, including education.

Paige highlighted our work advancing the rights of students such as ELC's historic  L.R. v. Steelton-Highspire School District case ensuring school stability for students experiencing homelessnes , as well as provided tangible best practice tips for working with students who are experiencing homeless on their own. The panel also provided promising practices for supporting highly mobile students to McKinney-Vento state coordinators, who are charged with protecting the rights of students experiencing homelessness.
Staff attorney Paige Joki, top left, at the conference.
PDE Is Interested in Hearing from You about Charter Schools
The Pennsylvania Department of Education recently announced its intention to issue new and amended regulations to govern charter school entities. This is an important move by PDE to exercise its authority under the Charter School Law to ensure that charter schools, including cyber charter schools, are established, governed, and operated with transparency and accountability to the communities where they operate. PDE has invited comments from the public, presenting an opportunity to address issues of equity and access raised in ELC’s February report on charter oversight.

PDE needs to hear from you that these issues matter and that statewide regulations are needed! We encourage you to submit comments by December 31 to the Office of the Secretary, 333 Market Street, 10th Floor, Harrisburg, PA 17126. Questions about the process? Contact ELC policy director Reynelle Brown Staley ( rstaley@elc-pa.org ).
Voucher Proposal for Harrisburg Stalls
Legislative efforts targeting the financially recovering Harrisburg School District for a pilot voucher program have been successfully blocked for now in the PA House. HB 1800 , a voucher bill proposed by House Speaker Mike Turzai, has been tabled after being narrowly voted out of the House Education Committee with a 13-12 vote. Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-Monroe) and Rep. Meghan Schroeder (R-Bucks) joined the committee Democrats in voting against the bill.

Thank you for your efforts in ensuring that this flawed bill, which would have sent taxpayer funds to private schools that can engage in discriminatory practices, did not move forward! Please continue to communicate with your legislators , thanking those who have already voted no, and telling others to oppose vouchers! Read more here about the tuition voucher bill and why ELC is opposed.
PA Schools Work Webinar Highlights Tools for State-Level Advocacy
The statewide PA Schools Work campaign hosted the first in a series of monthly webinars in November on school funding advocacy. For tips and information on becoming a champion of public education funding in PA, check out the webinar here . The next webinar in the series, at noon on Dec. 10, will look at basic education funding in the state.
A Day of Learning on Disability Rights
Pittsburgh staff joined with national and local leaders for the launch of Disability Inclusion & Access — a day of collective learning and action to advance disability rights in education, philanthropy, and nonprofits. Visit FISA Foundation’s new hub of online resources to learn more. Always great to see former ELC-er Thena Robinson Mock, who spoke about disability justice for Black girls in school and the need for systems change at the intersection of race, gender, and disability. Thanks to the FISA Foundation and Heinz Endowments for undertaking this important initiative — and for their ongoing support of ELC’s work that allows us to grow and deepen our commitment to disability justice.
Giving Tuesday is Dec. 3
Giving Tuesday is tomorrow! We hope you will consider supporting ELC while planning your charitable giving this holiday season. This year, Facebook is again matching donations, up to $7 million, starting at 8 a.m. EST on Dec. 3. Please contribute right at 8 so your gift can go twice as far! The match is first-come, first-served, and concluded quickly last year. If you'd like to donate through other means, please click here .
Welcome, Jessica!
ELC is pleased to announce that Jessica Attie is joining us as a staff attorney in our Philadelphia office this month. Before coming to ELC, Jessica served as special counsel for civil rights in the New York Attorney General’s office, where she handled several notable matters, including New York’s challenge to the Muslim ban, its sanctuary-cities litigation, and its investigation into the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices. More recently, Jessica served in the appeals unit at the Philadelphia District Attorney's office.

Jessica is a graduate of Barnard College and Georgetown University Law Center, where she was a Public Interest Law Scholar. After law school, she clerked for Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She has taught at Brooklyn Law School and the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. Join us in welcoming Jessica!
We're Hiring!
ELC is looking for a full-time administrative assistant in our Philadelphia office. Learn more about the position and how to apply here .
What We're Reading...

  • The Quiet Rooms by Jennifer Smith Richards, Jodi S. Cohen and Lakeidra Chavis for Pro Publica Illinois.


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