June 2019
Calling for an On-Time State Budget with Needed Funding for PA Public Schools
June 30 marks the date by which the Pennsylvania General Assembly is constitutionally required to adopt a state budget every year. Budget negotiations are likely to begin in earnest after June 3, when both the House and Senate reconvene in the Capitol. ELC continues to work with our PA Schools Work partners in pushing the legislature to enact the governor’s education budget in full and on time. We have joined thousands of Pennsylvanians in signing a petition to enact an increase of at least $260 million for basic education, special education, and career and technical education for the 2019-20 fiscal year. Please sign the petition , call your legislators , and urge the General Assembly to quickly approve the governor’s full proposed budget and begin working on a permanent funding solution.
Pursuing Justice for Youth Who Were at Glen Mills
Our class action suit on behalf of youth who were abused and denied education at Glen Mills Schools is moving forward in US District Court. Lawyers from ELC, Juvenile Law Center, and Dechert LLP filed the suit April 11 against the now-closed school, the state departments of education and human services, and Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU), charging abuse by Glen Mills, lack of oversight by the state and CCIU, and denial of educational rights of students.

We expect defendants to file motions to dismiss the case. In a conference on May 22, Judge Bartle set a schedule for those motions and responses. We anticipate a ruling on those motions by early fall and hope to see the case move toward trial. Since filing the case, attorneys have received multiple calls from former students at Glen Mills, many going back decades, who have shared horrific stories of abuse, intimidation, and lack of education.
Promoting Responsible Charter Reform
ELC is troubled by proposed state legislation that would undermine efforts, like those promoted in our recent report on Philadelphia charter schools, to ensure that local school boards effectively monitor civil rights compliance and equitable access in charters. HB 357 was recently approved by the PA House Education Committee and is currently under consideration by the full House. The bill would require PDE to develop a single form for all 500 school districts to use statewide for both charter applications and renewals and would prohibit local school boards from requesting the types of demographic and civil rights compliance data we highlighted in our report. We are working with partners across the state to oppose this flawed legislation , as it would represent a step backwards in charter authorization.
Reforming the State's Alternative Education Programs
Since the U.S. Department of Justice reached a comprehensive agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) in March, settling a federal civil rights investigation triggered by our 2013 complaint , ELC has been working to ensure that PDE implements needed changes to the state’s disciplinary “alternative education for disruptive youth” (AEDY) programs. The settlement aims to address illegal treatment of students with disabilities and English learners. Throughout the summer, we are convening parents, advocates, and stakeholders to ensure that the changes to alternative education are informed by the experiences of students most impacted and to equip partners with ELC’s new rights-based tool to support parents in navigating this shifting alternative education landscape. 

We have also collaborated with Pittsburgh Public Schools and the School District of Philadelphia around the forthcoming reforms as part of our statewide school climate advocacy. We continue to work with PDE to address the issues of racial equity and disproportionality in AEDY program placement that were raised in our initial complaint but not addressed in the settlement agreement. We aim to ensure that AEDY programs are limited to short-term placements of last resort that are capable of meeting students’ needs. ELC will continue to push for effective state monitoring of AEDY programs throughout the 2019-20 school year, when the settlement takes effect.
Questioning the Role of Pittsburgh Police in Schools
ELC worked with parents, advocates, and partners to push back against a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with City of Pittsburgh police that was presented to the Pittsburgh school board in May. Our concerns focus on the negative consequences to Black students, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities when city police are allowed to enter schools and receive information about school-related matters. Our efforts, including public testimony and a joint community letter , were successful! Superintendent Anthony Hamlet postponed the vote on the MOU, and we are hopeful that ELC and others will be able to present our concerns publicly to the school board prior to a vote.
Seeking Education Justice for Immigrant and Refugee Students
ELC convened more than 15 local organizations in Pittsburgh on May 3 — including representatives from legal advocacy groups, community organizations, university partners, parent groups, service providers, and disability advocates — for the third meeting of its task force focused on improving educational access and equity for English learners and limited-English-proficient parents. This stakeholder group continues to work on shared collective action for systemic reforms for immigrant refugee students and families in Western Pennsylvania.

This work is part of ELC’s broader commitment to education justice with and for English learners. It builds on ELC’s individual and systemic advocacy, which led to the adoption of innovative policy reforms within the Pittsburgh Public Schools. To join the task force, please contact our Equal Justice Works fellow, Jackie Perlow at jperlow@elc-pa.org
ELC Files Amicus Brief in Gender-Based Bullying and Harassment Case
ELC has co-authored and filed an  amicus brief , along with the Women’s Law Project, in a landmark bullying case supporting a former Philadelphia School District student who sued the district for its deliberate indifference to her gender-based harassment and abuse.
 
Wible v. School District of Philadelphia  is a significant case because the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court may clarify the extent to which educational institutions are liable for student-on-student sexual harassment under   the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act . This clarification is especially important given that the Trump administration has not been supportive of students’ rights to pursue allegations of sexual harassment and assault under Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education. Pennsylvania students have the right under state law to hold their educational institution accountable for failing to adequately address student-to-student harassment.
Thank You to Departing Stoneleigh Fellow Lizzy Wingfield
In June, Lizzy Wingfield will conclude her Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader fellowship at ELC, focused on the education barriers facing LGBTQ youth. Over the past two years, Lizzy guided ELC’s internal work to improve our own LGBTQ competency and institutionalize ELC’s continued practice of protecting the interests of LGBTQ students throughout all of our intersectional work. By conducting multiple listening sessions, Lizzy’s work from the start was directed by the priorities of LGBTQ students. Top concerns were bullying/harassment in schools, interactions with school police, and equitable treatment and accommodations for trans students in schools.
 
In addition to individual advocacy cases, Lizzy wrote open letters and press releases articulating the legal rights of trans students, most recently in  Eastern Lancaster School District  and  Wayne Highlands School District . She took the lead on two  amicus   briefs supporting students who were harassed on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation — cases that will hopefully preserve the critical legal option for students to pursue their harassment claims against school districts under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. Lizzy created factsheets:  Your Right to be Free from Gender Identity Discrimination  and  Your Right to be Free from Sexual Orientation Discrimination . She also created a practical parents’ guide to advocacy when a child is being bullied or harassed in school, to be published this summer.
 
Protecting the rights of LGBTQ youth — particularly those who are unaccompanied youth and youth of color — remains a priority for ELC. We are grateful to Lizzy and the Stoneleigh Foundation, and we wish her success in her new role at Ballard Spahr LLP!
Advocating for New Educational Supports for System-Involved Youth
ELC continues to urge Pennsylvania’s General Assembly to take legislative action to support the educational needs of students in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. In the House, ELC has been working to support the passage of HB 1276 , the Fostering Independence through Education Act. The bill creates a tuition and fee waiver program for youth in foster care pursuing higher education in Pennsylvania. In the Senate, we are pushing separate legislation, SB 662 , that will support highly mobile students in staying on track to graduate from high school. We are hopeful that both bills will pass this legislative session.
ELC Promotes Increased Supports for Pregnant and Parenting Students
Legal director Maura McInerney presented testimony to Philadelphia City Council at the May 6 State of Our Schools hearing, highlighting the need to increase supports for pregnant and parenting students in the school district. At a subsequent Council budget hearing, Philadelphia schools Superintendent William Hite responded to follow-up questions from Councilmember Helen Gym and committed to a review of the district’s policy on pregnant and parenting students.

ELC presented testimony to the Philadelphia school board’s Student Achievement and Support Committee on May 16, delineating specific recommendations for changes to policies, including: developing an academic plan for each student; providing access to teachers, homebound instruction, and other forms of engagement during the weeks a student is on leave from school; and offering specific interventions to support students returning to school, including academic accommodations, access to on-site childcare, and support for breastfeeding students in school.

Stay tuned for the forthcoming release of ELC's new report detailing important findings and recommendations from our two-year study of this issue.  
Meet our Summer Interns!
Essence Kimes is a rising 3L at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, she is a graduate of Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Creative and Performing Arts high school and the University of Pittsburgh, where she studied administrative justice and legal studies.
Taylor Tucker is an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, pursuing an honors special major in educational studies and Black studies. She has studied effects of parental incarceration on the educational achievements of children in Chester and organized Swarthmore students for prison abolition advocacy.
Emily Wilson is a rising 3L at William & Mary Law School and has experience advocating for students with disabilities in Illinois and Virginia. Emily worked as a middle school math teacher before starting law school and has a master’s degree in secondary education from the University of New Mexico. 
Robin Harvey is a rising 3L at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. Robin has worked in San Antonio (her hometown) and Austin as communications director for State Rep. Diego Bernal, where she championed policies supporting homeless students and youth leaving foster care.
Nadia Lee is a rising 3L at Boston University School of Law and a native of Atlanta. Nadia brings experience working in Title I schools through local education organizations in Cleveland.
We're Hiring
ELC is currently searching for experienced attorneys for full-time openings. We are also reviewing applications for fall semester externships and practicums in our Philadelphia and Pittsburgh offices. Please visit our website for more information on open positions.
Save the Date!
ELC will host its Annual Celebration on September 25, 2019, at the Crystal Tea Room in Philadelphia. Please stay tuned for more information on our event! Interested in being a sponsor? Contact Allegra Abramson .
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.