When you help ELC protect this student's right to learn, you help ELC protect all students' rights to learn.

Today Sharee* is a 12th grade student in high school, excited about graduating soon. She is thriving in her classes, participating in extracurricular activities, and preparing for college. But earlier in high school, things did not look so bright. Sharee was a high performing student, yet no one had noticed a steady decline in her grades and attendance. She lacked critical supports to meet her English language and academic needs and was enduring unaddressed sexual harassment from her classmates. Although Sharee reported this to the administration, the harassment continued, with no intervention from her school's leaders - making school an unsafe place for her.

Sharee continued to be harassed in school, and one day another student inappropriately touched her. Frustrated and feeling like she had nowhere to turn, Sharee got into an altercation with the other student and used her pencil  to defend herself. Under "zero-tolerance" policies, the school expelled Sharee for a full year, arguing that she possessed a weapon - the pencil. 

Knowing that the Education Law Center (ELC) is the only legal advocacy organization in Pennsylvania that is  exclusively dedicated to protecting students' access to quality public education, a community advocate working with Sharee's family contacted ELC. ELC represented Sharee at the expulsion hearing and then took action to  ensure that she was back in school and keeping up with her studies while we appealed the expulsion. After winning in the Court of Common Pleas, we argued the case in Commonwealth Court.

In May 2017, the Court issued a unanimous ruling in Sharee's favor:  "[A] pencil is not a weapon." The Court affirmed ELC's position that ordinary objects cannot be used as a basis to expel students under this zero-tolerance policy.

"If this Court were to construe 'weapon' to include the mere possession of a
pencil, then a classroom full of students taking a multiple-choice exam would
all be in violation of [the school code] and, eventually, there would be no 
students in attendance at the school."
- Judge McCullough in  S.A. v. Pittsburgh Public School District
By helping Sharee,  we have established new case law that will protect students across Pennsylvania from being pushed out of the classroom and denied their right to an education. 

This is a significant victory, not just for Sharee and her future, but for all students in Pennsylvania.   But there is much work to be done both to ensure that districts across the state follow this new law and to address other situations where children are wrongfully excluded. 

"I'm very thankful for ELC's help. I would not have been able to do this without 
them. I now sleep better knowing that my daughter is able to continue with her 
education. Please make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else's child."
- Sharee's father

ELC is working to ensure that districts across Pennsylvania follow the law so that all students benefit from this change.  Please donate today so that we can help more students like Sharee.

* Name changed to protect the student's privacy.
United Way Donor Choice Code: 1873 (Greater Philadelphia and Southern NJ)

A copy of the Education Law Center's official registration and financial information may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling 1-800-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.  
Ensuring access to a quality public education for all children in Pennsylvania
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