February 2021
Making Our Schools and Students
Safe from Policing
ELC reaffirms our commitment to police-free schools and the rights of students following the widely publicized incidents of white school resource officers brutalizing two Black students in two different Florida high schools last week. These traumatic assaults remind us of the reality that Black girls are not safe in school, a place where they are required by law to be and where they deserve to be protected, nurtured, and loved. 

As families consider returning to in-person learning, we must prioritize students’ physical and mental health needs. COVID is not the only danger to students; schools must ensure students are safe from the harms of policing, arrests, and push-out.

Unfortunately, we know that in Pennsylvania, both the state and school districts continue to devote significant resources to fund police while underfunding supportive solutions, despite the lack of evidence that police make schools safer. In fact, we know that police can make schools dangerous for Black and Brown students, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ youth.

That is why we and many allied organizations are calling for divestment from school police and endorsing the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act in Congress to prohibit federal funds for police in schools. It’s why we also advocate at the district and state level to divest from policing and surveillance and invest in evidence-based, transformative interventions. It’s why we testify for increased mental health supports in schools, especially for Black girls. Contact your members of Congress today and urge them to co-sponsor the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act.
Center Students Over Profits in Chester Upland
As the Chester Upland School District faces the potential outsourcing of some or all of its schools, ELC, along with Public Interest Law Center, continues to advocate on behalf of Chester parents, students, and the disability rights group Delaware County Advocacy & Resource Organization. We aim to ensure that the quality of education provided to students is centered, parent input and transparency are prioritized, and the needs of students with disabilities are addressed.  

The court-appointed receiver for the district is now implementing a court-authorized request for proposals (RFP) process that could lead to charter conversion or private management of some or all district schools by this fall. In response to our emergency motion to suspend the RFP process, the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas held a Jan. 11 hearing to consider our challenge that the RFP failed to ensure that charter operators demonstrate superior academic outcomes to the district’s and that all bidders establish their ability to improve educational outcomes and meet the needs of all students. 

On Jan. 14, Judge Barry Dozor ordered revisions to the RFP and suspended the RFP process until the district could submit its completed 2019 financial audits. The new deadline for RFP submissions is March 1. A task force will then be convened to make recommendations to the receiver, and a public hearing held where parents and stakeholders can ask questions of the selected bidders prior to a court hearing on a final plan. To learn more about this litigation and how to support the students of Chester Upland, join us for a Zoom meeting on February 4 at 7 p.m., Chester Upland Rising: Where Do We Go From Here? 
Funding Case Trial Coming Soon – But Legislators Can Act Now!
Our historic school funding lawsuit against Pennsylvania officials will go to trial in Commonwealth Court this year. While we await the issuing of a scheduling order by the judge in the case, we continue to work with our partners and our co-counsel at the Public Interest Law Center to build awareness and support for the case through webinars, social media, and other activities. It is a good time to remind our legislators that they do not need to wait for a verdict to take action on addressing the grossly inadequate and inequitable funding system that Pennsylvania still uses. Sign up here both to get regular updates on the case and to volunteer to help spread the word.
Eyes are on Gov. Wolf on Feb. 2
Tuesday, Feb. 2 is an important day in Pennsylvania this year, and not just because it’s Groundhog Day. Gov. Wolf will be announcing his proposed budget for 2021-22, including his education spending plan. We have grown used to the same thing happening each year proposals for incremental increases in school funding that may move in the right direction but don’t resolve the entrenched inequities and shortfalls in state support. More ambitious proposals predictably get shaved back by the legislature.

This year, we are hopeful for some new, bold approaches from the governor. We know that one component of his plan is a fund for school infrastructure. In the wake of the pandemic, our schools particularly those in under-resourced communities need more than that; they need a big boost to make up for lost learning opportunities and get students the supports they need. You can watch coverage of the governor’s budget address at 11 a.m. on Feb 2.
Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action
February is not only Black History Month – it is also a time when educators and organizations across the country will be focusing attention on the growing movement to ensure that Black Lives Matter at School. The national week of action with events, curriculum for classroom teachers, sharing of resources, and raising of demands is being observed nationally with events from February 1- 5, and in Philadelphia there is a full week of activities planned from Feb. 7-13. This is an important opportunity to deepen our understanding of structural racism, intersectional Black identities, Black history, and anti-racist movements; we encourage you to participate and follow the #BLMatSchool hashtag.
Judicial Gerrymandering:
Oppose PA House Bill 38
House Bill 38 proposes to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution, changing the way appellate judges are elected in the state by dividing the Commonwealth into a series of districts. Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the Superior Court and Commonwealth Court would no longer vie for election statewide. The change would elevate partisan politics over qualifications in the selection process and open the door for gerrymandering. Pennsylvania voters would be eligible to cast a ballot for just 3 of 31 total appellate judicial seats, even though the decisions made by those judges have statewide impact.

A wide array of advocacy groups, including the Philadelphia Bar Association and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, are urging legislators to defeat the bill in the General Assembly. If it passes soon, attention will have to pivot to educating voters on a referendum on the primary ballot in May. Our immediate task is to contact your state legislators to urge them to keep our judiciary free from partisan influence and representative of all Pennsylvanians.
A Win: Compensatory Education for Students Denied Services During COVID
In response to an administrative complaint filed by ELC and a subsequent request for reconsideration, the state has directed Parkland School District in the Lehigh Valley to award compensatory education services to all children and youth with disabilities residing at KidsPeace who failed to receive educational services from March 2020 through the end of last school year. The state also required Parkland to revise its policies to ensure access to public school for all students with disabilities. The state will be monitoring to ensure that students at KidsPeace, most of them children in foster care, have access to public school.   
Another Win: Ensuring Timely Appointment
of Surrogate Parents in Philly
In response to a state administrative complaint filed by ELC about a continuing failure to appoint surrogate parents for unaccompanied youth with disabilities, the School District of Philadelphia has implemented systemic reforms, including use of a screening tool to identify students who need surrogate parents, a new procedure for appointing and tracking the appointment of surrogate parents, and the creation of an expanded pool of surrogate parents to serve students who lack an educational decisionmaker.
Congratulations to ELC’s Legal Fellows
Hearty congratulations are due to ELC’s two newest attorney-fellows on their swearing in to the Pennsylvania Bar.
Ashli Giles-Perkins at swearing in
Ashli Giles-Perkins, ELC's Independence Foundation Public Interest Law fellow in Philadelphia, was sworn in on Jan. 23, witnessed by ELC staff attorney, Paige Joki. Ashli's fellowship is focused on youth who are system-involved (child welfare and juvenile justice) and their access to education while entering, residing in, or transitioning from residential facilities.
Essence Kimes (right), with Judge Jennifer McCrady
Essence Kimes, Equal Justice Works fellow in Pittsburgh, was sworn in Jan. 7 by Judge Jennifer McCrady from the Fifth Judicial District. Through direct representation and community-driven policy advocacy, Essence is working to ensure that Black girls in Pennsylvania have less interaction with police in schools and more mental health support from culturally affirming counselors and caring professionals.
We Welcome New Interns
ELC is grateful for the support of a new cohort of legal interns who joined us in January.

Basmah Raja is a third-year law student at Temple University, where she is a Law and Public Policy Scholar. She interned with the Council for Court Excellence, where she assisted with the creation of a guide on students’ rights when interacting with police in schools. Basmah is especially interested in education policy and funding equity.

David Marx is a third-year law student at Fordham University. He is a Stein Scholar and has interned with the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, Mobilization for Justice, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, and The Mississippi Center for Justice. Previously, he was an elementary special education teacher and held several positions working with youth. David is especially interested in work dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.

Sarah Best is a third-year law student at the University of Pennsylvania. She rejoins ELC as a pro bono volunteer after completing a spring semester internship in 2020. Sarah is a former high school math teacher and instructional coach who has interned with the U.S. Department of Education and the School District of Philadelphia. We are excited to have her back!

Finally, thank you to Montell Brown! Montell is a first-year law student at the University of Virginia who completed an intensive pro bono project with ELC’s Black girls education justice project in January. Montell previously worked as an elementary school teacher and administrator in the School District of Philadelphia. Although his time with us was too short, we are grateful for his excellent work!
We're Hiring!
ELC is seeking an attorney for a full-time position in our Philadelphia office. A temporary position (3-6 months) to focus on urgent trial matters may also be considered (timeline to be determined). Primary duties will focus on impact litigation and direct representation of clients and will also include working with community partners and informing our policy advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels. The candidate should have a demonstrated commitment to racial justice, public interest law, civil rights, and advancing the rights of underserved populations. Learn more here.

See our website for policy and development job opportunities at ELC. 
What We're Reading...
In Pennsylvania, the Dismantling of a Public School System, by Peter Greene for Forbes (about Chester Upland School District)

FAQs on [Biden’s] New Executive Orders, by the National School Boards Association

PASBO Data Dive, by the PA Association of School Business Officers (annotated data about school funding in Pennsylvania).
Education Law Center | 215-238-6970 (Philadelphia)| 412-258-2120 (Pittsburgh)|
A copy of the official registration and financial information of the Education Law Center may be obtained from the Department of State by calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania, 1-880-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.