THE PUBLIC INTEREST LAW CENTER OF PHILADELPHIA
Affiliated with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Board of Directors
Eric J. Rothschild, Chair
Pepper Hamilton LLP
Melissa A. Wojtylak, Treasurer
Reed Smith LLP
Scott Bennett Freemann, Secretary
Freemann Law Offices
Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young LLP
Richard L. Bazelon
Bazelon Less & Feldman
Anna M. Bryan
White and Williams LLP
Nicholas E. Chimicles
Chimicles & Tikellis
William H. Ewing
Joseph B.G. Fay
Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP
Brian T. Feeney
Greenberg Traurig LLP
H. Robert Fiebach
Howard R. Flaxman
Fox Rothschild LLP
Ellen S. Friedell
Reaching Agreement ADR LLC
George G. Gordon
Stacy L. Hawkins
Rutgers School of Law - Camden
Donald K. Joseph
Rutgers School of Law - Camden
Aliza R. Karetnick
Duane Morris LLP
Joseph W. "Chip" Marshall, III
Stevens & Lee
Marciene S. Mattleman
After School Activities Partnership
Sharon F. McKee
Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin
H. Laddie Montague, Jr.
Berger & Montague PC
Carlos S. Montoya
Derek Redcross, CPA
Paul H. Saint-Antoine
Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP
Marc A. Topaz
Barroway Topaz Kessler Meltzer & Check, LLP
Shelly D. Yanoff
Public Citizens for Children & Youth
Barristers' Association of Philadelphia
Carolyn M. Chopko, Chair
Young Lawyers' Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association
Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania
Rudolph Garcia, Chancellor
Philadelphia Bar Association
Ellen T. Greenlee
Defender Association of Philadelphia
John Savoth, Chancellor-Elect
Philadelphia Bar Association
Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania
Kathleen D. Wilkinson, Vice Chancellor
Philadelphia Bar Association
|Letter from the Executive Director
This political and budget season holds fascinating object lessons in the mechanics of political and social change. In Harrisburg, we are told, a $1 billion proposed cut to public education is being thwarted because real people are turning up in legislators' offices - droves of them - to protest the cuts. These are not the regular political activists whose voices are expected. Instead they are thousands of parents who have never participated in the political process but are now galvanized by the prospect of fewer teachers, cuts in demonstrably effective early education, and millions of additional, still-unknown cuts. And this pressure appears to be working as the Pennsylvania legislature is slowly restoring some of the cuts.
I was still reflecting on the implications of this story for our work here at the Law Center when I came face to face with one of the largest social changes in our lifetime: the end of apartheid in South Africa. Of course how that actually happened is a long, violent and complex story, but one small piece resonated with me during a recent visit: as people were forcibly moved to townships and their original social structures were dismantled, it was the continued opportunities for social engagement - things like soccer, music, or organized religions - that held communities together and ultimately served as the venues for social and political organization.
There was one more perspective during a recent international gathering of urban planners and landscape architects at the University of Pennsylvania. The group struggled with the knowledge that the public spaces they create influence the social interactions within those spaces - the Egyptian revolution certainly was shaped by the location and fact of Tahrir Square. But with all of their power to shape space and thus how we interact, these professionals felt themselves helpless to influence larger events because it is not they who decide how and when their services will be used.
Taken together, these observations reconfirm for me two of our firmly held tenets here at the Law Center. First, change, large or small, can never be effected by the Law Center by itself. It is only by working with and on behalf of clients - organizations or individuals that already have strongly articulated goals - that our legal skills will be most effectively deployed. And, second, I am again reminded of the value of creating spaces, both literal and figurative, in which people with a broad range of perspectives, skills and interests can convene. Our highly regarded annual symposia directed to a pressing social issue is one example (this year the topic will be strategies to improve the quality of low income neighborhoods). Another is an increasingly organized coalition of groups across the City of Philadelphia who are taking steps to improve the education of children with disabilities in the School District of Philadelphia.
The short story is that we cannot do our work alone. It is the people, the supporters, the venues, the opportunities and the coalitions that deepen and magnify our labors. To each of you who participates in this great work - thank you!
Very truly yours,
Jennifer R. Clarke
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| Law Center, Dechert LLP Launch Philadelphia Project to Reform Special Education in Philadelphia
In a unique partnership, the Law Center, Dechert LLP, and students from the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University have launched a project that aims to transform the system for educating the 23,000 children with disabilities in the School District of Philadelphia and to secure significant improvements in the quality of their education. The Project is training parents of students with disabilities about their rights, representing parents in securing those rights, and identifying and pursuing opportunities for systemic reform.
Initial support for the project is being provided by a $20,000 grant from the Fels Fund and a $7500 grant from the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation.
Read more about the Project
, including background on the issues, plans for creating change, and more - and read about the first cases in the project below
|Students Prevail in First Cases Coming Out of Philadelphia Project
Law Center clients MM, PV, and two classmates
On April 15th, 2011, Hearing Officer Brian Jason Ford issued decisions in favor of MM and PV, two students with autism in the School District of Philadelphia who are being represented by the Law Center attorney Sonja Kerr. Parents of the students alleged that their children had spent "years outside the neighborhood school in a highly restricted, over-enrolled austistic support classroom."
The decisions hold that the district denied the students free and appropriate educations, in three ways: that the students spent the entirety of their time in an over-enrolled class which, their teacher testified, had a "direct, negative influence" on their education. Second, the Hearing Officer notes, "none of the Student[s'] IEPs were implemented with fidelity." And third, he held that the District made no effort to determine whether the children could be included in regular classrooms: one of the students' IEPs called for inclusion just 4% of the school day, or 16 minutes per week.
The hearing officer took great pains to note that the children's teacher is "remarkably good," but nonetheless concluded that there were too many students for a single teacher in a single autism support classroom, and no aides were provided to assist in including the students in regular education settings.
Finally, the hearing officer noted that there is "considerable evidence" that the district "was less than forthright" with the Pennsylvania Department of Education when that agency was investigating claims of over-enrollment, but the hearing officer concluded that he did not have jurisdiction over that issue.
Read more about the cases
Read the MM decision.
Read the PV decision.
|Save the Date!
Law Center's Symposium on Equality to be Held October 6th, 2011
Symposium on Equality
8:30am-4:45pm at the Arch Street Meeting House
This year's symposium, Overstudied and Underserved: Uses of the Law to Promote Healthy, Sustainable Urban Communities, will focus on the difficult legal and policy issues faced by low-income communities that are disproportionately burdened with the environmental and health impacts of our modern society. We will ask: what is environmental justice, and where do we stand? If there are going to be undesirable uses of land, how do we as a society decide where to put them? Why aren't the regulations, laws and science currently strong enough to prevent circumstances in which low income neighborhoods suffer disproportionate effects of industry and do not enjoy amenities that other communities take for granted? We will conclude the day with a discussion of tools for erasing the disproportionate impact pollution has on minority and low-income communities, both by fighting environmental burdens and by developing positive plans for economic as well as environmental revitalization.
Thaddeus Stevens Awards Dinner
5:00-9:00pm at The Down Town Club
The symposium will be followed by the Thaddeus Stevens Awards Dinner, which each year honors those who have made major contributions to the pursuit of equality in the area discussed at the symposium.
Registration will open soon! Keep an eye out for future notifications.
Law Center Attorney Testifies before U.S. Department of Education Commission
On Friday, April 29th, Law Center attorney Michael Churchill spoke before the Equity and Excellence Commission of the U.S. Department of Education on the effects unequal school funding has had in Pennsylvania, particularly in Philadelphia public schools. Congressman Chaka Fattah and other education experts and advocates also testified, as did students from Philadelphia schools who described the effects unequal funding has had on their schools.
"To say a public school has failed these children is to identify the wrong perpetrator - it is the legislators, who have refused to produce adequate resources for these children's schools, who have failed the students," Churchill told the crowd.
"Frankly," he continued, "I am tired of hearing that getting poor and minority children out of failing schools is the new civil rights battle when we have never delivered on the old civil right of equitable distribution of resources so that all actually have a real chance for an adequate public education."
Read more about the meeting.
Read the rest of Churchill's testimony.
Law Center's EJ Clinic Offers Comments On Proposed Guidelines for Marcellus Shale Drilling
In response to the Delaware River Basin Commission's request for comments on proposed regulations of Marcellus Shale drilling, Law Center fellow Jaimee Moore and EJ Clinic Director Adam Cutler caution the DRBC to proceed only after reviewing all of the available data and suggest the DRBC strengthen its proposed regulations to bolster its ability to monitor drill operators for violations and bring violators into compliance.
"At this stage of the Marcellus Shale gas boom, the drilling industry envisions enormous profits and landowners dream of lucrative lease and royalty payments," Moore and Cutler write, "But the ability to access and extract this fossil fuel from shale layers located a mile or more below the surface has outpaced the breadth and depth of the science surrounding the impacts of the processes."
"For the health and welfare of the 15 million people who depend on the waters of the Delaware River Basin, the Commission cannot allow itself to succumb to pressure to allow weak regulations and unfettered drilling, or to proceed without a full evaluation of the data."
Read the comments.
Law Center Director Speaks Out in Favor of City Council's 'Ban the Box' Ordinance
Minutes before Philadelphia's City Council adopted a 'Ban the Box' ordinance on March 31st, Law Center Executive Director Jennifer Clarke spoke in favor of the proposal, which bans employers from asking about a potential employee's convictions during the initial screening phase of the hiring process and requires that any subsequent decision not to hire be based on the actual requirements of the job.
Taking advantage of a recent Court decision requiring Council to allow public comment, Clarke pointed out that the law will make it more difficult to discriminate against formerly convicted people for employment purposes, a practice that is already illegal, but nevertheless widespread.
Read Clarke's full testimony.
Read a transcript of the City Council meeting.
|Sign Installed in Renovated Ned Wolf Park, Commemorating Ned's "Burning Passion for Social Justice"
|Click picture above to see larger version.|
Last month, a sign was placed in Ned Wolf Park, located at the
corner of Ellet and McCallum Streets, to commemorate the life and work of Edwin (Ned) C. Wolf, the Law Center's first Executive Director.
As the sign says, "With a burning passion for social justice, Ned Wolf worked tirelessly to correct social inequalities in Philadelphia and the nation."
Ned Wolf Park, located in Philadelphia's West Mt. Airy neighborhood, was posthumously dedicated to Ned in 1979. The placement of this sign marks the end of a renovation project that began in the fall of 2006, when neighbors in the area organized to transform the previously neglected space.
|Thank You to Ella and LaTrice!
It is no exaggeration to say that without our excellent legal secretaries, Ella Wright (bio) and LaTrice Brooks (bio), the Law Center's operations would come grinding to a halt.
Administrative Professionals' Day was April 27th, so we wanted to take a moment to thank Ella and LaTrice for all of the hard work they contribute to the Law Center's mission.
LaTrice first started working for the Law Center in high school and has been with us ever since, and Ella joined the Law Center following a 9-year tenure with the law firm Dechert LLP. They both bring expertise, professionalism, and an all-around positive presence to the office.
Ella and LaTrice, thank you for everything you do!
Meet our Featured Volunteer, David Napiorski!
The Law Center's day-to-day operations rely in large part on the hard work of its wonderful volunteers. A big thank you to our volunteers and interns for their contributions to the Law Center's success!
This month our feature volunteer is David Napiorski. After getting his Master of Science in Education from the University of Pennsylvania, David taught in Philadelphia schools. Discovering an interest in education policy and law, David then decided to return to law school, and he will matriculate at Rutgers Law School in the fall. David also co-founded and performed in the Rock for Dreams tour, a national charity concert tour to benefit the I Have a Dream Foundation.
Please join the Law Center staff in thanking David and all of our other volunteers for their immense contributions to the Law Center's mission!
Join Us for These Upcoming Events:
How To Do Your Own Due Process Hearing (While Maintaining Your Sanity)
When: Tuesday, May 24, 12-4 p.m.
Where: United Way Building, 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia PA
Cost: $100; $200 for attorneys; scholarships and student/non-profit discounts are available
Email Dave Hanyok
for more information and/or to request a scholarship.
Discussion will include a brief overview on the history of Pro Se ("for self") representation, a look at the legal implications of Winkleman on Special Education hearings, and a guide on how to approach and conduct your own hearing. The seminar will focus on the specific steps needed to build your child's case and execute your argument, as well as some tips that can help make your casemore compelling to a hearing officer.
REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN
A Guide to Section 504 in Public Schools
When: Friday, June 24th, 8:00 am-12:45 pm
Where: CLE Conference Center, Wanamaker Bldg., 10th Floor, Ste. 1010, Philadelphia, PA
Moderated by Charles W. Jelley, this program will provide an overview of Section 504, highlighting its regulatory requirements and key provisions. The Law Center's Sonja Kerr and a number of other attorneys will participate in the teaching of this seminar. Section 504 places a duty on schools to provide children with a Free Appropriate Education, or FAPE. Section 504 FAPE covers both regular and special education accommodations, and governs accessibility, bullying, discipline, the ability to participate in both academic and non-academic activities, and even menu selections. Essentially, Section 504 "levels the playing field," ensuring full participation in academic and extra-curricular activities by individuals with disabilities.
Register early for discounted prices!
|The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia is dedicated to advancing the
Constitutional promise of equal citizenship to all persons irrespective of
race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, gender or poverty. We use
public education, continuing education of our clients and client
organizations, research, negotiation and, when necessary, the courts to
achieve systemic reforms that advance the central goals of self-advocacy,
social justice and equal protection of the law for all members of society.
The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia
is a registered charitable organization. A copy of the official
registration may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State
by calling toll free within Pennsylvania 1.800.732.0999. Registration
does not imply endorsement.