October 2020
ELC's Helpline Continues to Provide Critical Advocacy during COVID Crisis
As students go back to school in this unprecedented time, ELC's Helpline team has been working daily to ensure that families have prompt, accurate information about their students' educational rights, including the right to timely enrollment. For example, ELC assisted a parent and her child who were experiencing homelessness after they were forced to leave their home and relocate in Pennsylvania. The parent had called the local school and school district many times to enroll her son but was told that it would take several weeks to complete the registration process. Discouraged, she called ELC's Helpline.
ELC connected her to the school district's liaison for families experiencing homelessness, who enrolled her son the next day with a Chromebook and internet hots​pot. She told ELC's legal assistant Diana Diaz, "You are one of the few people who actually listened and took action for us. I just wanted to let you know how truly appreciative and grateful I am!" 

Learn more about the COVID-related challenges children are facing by listening to Philly’s KYW Newsradio podcast with staff attorney Margie Wakelin.  
Latest News on Landmark Funding Lawsuit
In our historic school funding case, William Penn School District et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education et al., our legal team with co-counsel Public Interest Law Center and O’Melveny is now prepared to prove in court that our state legislature violated its constitutional duties by failing to fix a broken, inequitable school funding system. 

Spending gaps between Pennsylvania’s rich and poor school districts have only grown since we filed our lawsuit in 2014: from a little over $3,000 per student to $4,848 in 2019. In a school with 500 students, that is a $2.4 million spending gap. Statewide, Black students are concentrated in the most underfunded districts, and disparities in educational opportunities provided to white and Black students have widened and continue to grow.
We have recently completed fact discovery in the case, taken over 60 depositions, reviewed thousands of pages of documents, submitted eight expert reports, and are preparing to submit rebuttal expert reports this month. Following briefing on pre-trial motions this fall, we anticipate a trial date in late winter 2021.  

Federal Funding for Schools Still Sorely Needed
Despite months of advocacy efforts to get Congress to pass a substantial new aid package to help schools operate and reopen safely, the U.S. Senate has been dragging its feet. But talks are ongoing between the House and the president over a revised “HEROES Act” drafted by House leaders that currently totals $2.2 trillion. Previously, the House passed a $3 trillion version of the act that would rescue the economy, schools, and local governments, while the Senate could barely unify around a package one-sixth that size.

Time is running out. Only the federal government has the capacity to act during an economic crisis like this. Join our partners at PA Schools Work and email your senators to let them know that our students urgently need a more generous aid package for schools. 
Alliance Looks to Create Safe, Supportive Schools for Black Girls
September was “Black Girls Equity Month” in Pittsburgh and a busy month for our work with the Black Girls Equity Alliance. ELC contributed to the Alliance’s recent report, Disrupting Pathways to Juvenile Justice for Black Youth in Allegheny County, focusing on the role that schools and school police play in pushing students out of school and into the juvenile justice system. At the Emergency Town Hall that followed the report’s release, ELC’s presentation stressed the importance of community-driven solutions, centering the needs of students and families.

Then at the Black Girls Equity Summit, we joined with Girls for Gender Equity, National Women’s Law Center, and Women’s Law Project in a discussion about how to create school climates where students are free from gender-based violence ‒ as well as how lawyers can promote innovative supports that do not further criminalize and harm students. 
Pittsburgh Schools Resolve to Examine Consequences of Policing
We continue our work to separate school safety from school policing. Collective action with partners to end school police arrests, citations, and referrals of Black students has led the Pittsburgh Public School Board to take a positive step, unanimously adopting the Reimagine School Safety Resolution. The resolution requires the district to analyze its arrest and citation data and publicly report it to the Board monthly so that the community can monitor and respond. A community-majority task force will address these issues, with a focus on hearing from the students who attend high schools where police patrol their buildings. 
Vindication of Students' Rights to Challenge Bullying, Harassment
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the right of students to challenge wrongful discrimination in schools in an opinion last month, finding that children have up to six months after their 18th birthday to file a complaint of discrimination to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. ELC, with the support of Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, crafted an amicus brief in this case, N.B. v. School District of Philadelphia, supporting the argument that a student who had experienced horrific bullying and sexual assault should not be subject to a narrow 180-day filing period for complaints to challenge wrongful  discrimination and harassment in school.

Unfortunately, we have seen a dramatic increase in harassment of students of color and LGBTQ students. Too often, school officials do not intervene appropriately to interrupt and correct such behavior. As a result, students are placed at an increased risk of absenteeism and poor academic performance, as well as long-lasting negative mental and physical health outcomes. All schools need to provide safe, affirming learning environments for LGBTQ students and students of color. Children who experience discrimination and harassment while in school are entitled to access to a legal system that allows them to hold their schools accountable. This decision ensures children will have that chance.
Celebrating 45 Years of Working
for Education Justice
ELC came together with hundreds of supporters for an engaging and uplifting online celebration of our 45th anniversary on September 24. Highlights included a real-time conversation with ELC board members Dr. Rotonya Carr and Dr. Dorothy Novick about the impact of COVID-19 on students and families, a video about our fair funding lawsuit, another about our work with a mom to reverse her son’s expulsion from preschool, updates on our legal work and a successful pledge drive.

Thank you to the many of you who have already generously donated! Your support helps us ensure that all children in Pennsylvania have access to quality public education. If you were not able to join us, there is still time to donate to support our work.

We Welcome a New Fellow and Legal Interns
Crystal Wirtz
Join us in welcoming Crystal Wirtz to our team in Philadelphia. Crystal is with us in a yearlong fellowship through Quaker Voluntary Service, focusing on our work for adequate, equitable state funding and for education justice for Black girls, as well as supporting ELC’s social media efforts. Crystal is a graduate of ​St. Catherine University, where she studied social work and critical studies of race and ethnicity. Crystal enjoys exploring Philadelphia's green spaces in COVID-compliant ways!

We have also welcomed four law student interns for the fall semester. 
Erin Agnew is a third-year law student at Temple University. She worked as a student adviser with 12 Plus before law school and has interned with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Montgomery County Office of the Public Defender, the Temple Legal Aid Office, and Community Legal Services. She is especially interested in education funding equity and police-free schools.
Carly Bellini is a third-year law student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, with a bachelor's degree in political science from Temple University. She is committed to public interest advocacy and has interned with several nonprofit, public interest organizations throughout college and law school.

Gracen Eiland is a third-year law student at Temple University, where she is also a Law & Public Policy Scholar. She previously interned with the Family Advocacy Unit at Community Legal Services and with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights in Washington, D.C.

Sarah Zimmerman is a second-year law student at Temple University. Prior to law school, she taught 6th grade social studies and K-8 special education in New Orleans. She is director of the School Discipline Advocacy Service, a program that trains law students to serve as advocates for students and their families during disciplinary proceedings at the School District of Philadelphia.

We're Hiring a Policy Director
ELC seeks an experienced professional for a full-time policy advocacy position in our Philadelphia office. The candidate should have a demonstrated commitment to public interest law, racial justice, civil rights, and advancing the rights of underserved populations. Please click here to learn more about the position.
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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.