Parents of Philadelphia Students Sue the Commonwealth for Failure to Investigate Complaints

Photo: Dustin Slaughter

Photo: Dustin Slaughter

By Kenneth Lipp

The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP) announced a lawsuit filed on behalf of seven Philadelphia parents and Parents United PA against the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) for failing  to adequately investigate allegations of  “massive curriculum deficiencies in Philadelphia public schools.” The suit claims that of over 825 complaints filed with the PED since September 2013, when Philadelphia schools began operating on what District officials themselves described as a “Doomsday Budget,” were either ignored or responded to by generic form letter only.  A website established by Parents United, the Media Mobilizing Project and PILCOP, myphillyschools.com, was launched last September to provide an easy online portal for students, employees, parents, and other parties entitled to file complaints under Pennsylvania law, as part of the Philly Complaints Project.

According to 22 Pa. Code § 4.81, the Secretary of Education has a duty to

receive and investigate allegations of curriculum deficiencies from professional employees, commissioned officers, parents of students or other residents of a school entity

notify the school entity’s superintendent or chief executive of allegations and may require the superintendent or chief executive to submit one or more of the following:

(1) Relevant descriptions of planned instruction.

(2) A series of written articulated courses of instructional units.

(3) Relevant student assessment information.

(4) Information on staff assignments.

(5) Other information pertinent to investigating a specific allegation.

If the Secretary determines after if investigation that “a curriculum deficiency exists,” the law prescribes that the school submit to the Secretary for approval a plan to correct the deficiency, and:

(d) Within 1 year of the implementation of a corrective action plan under subsection (c), the Secretary will review the actions taken to correct the deficiency. If the deficiency remains uncorrected, the Secretary will send a formal notice of deficiency to the governing board of the school entity, and the notice shall be announced at the meeting of the school entity’s governing board immediately following its receipt.

(e) If the school entity does not take appropriate actions to correct the deficiency after the notice of deficiency is announced, the Secretary will take action under State law.

Philly students were back in class this Monday, and even the most generous observer of the Philadelphia school system would allow that there exist many  “curriculum deficiencies” as an apparent result of the School District’s insolvency.  Complaints filed with the PED include “alarming levels of overcrowding such that teachers can no longer walk between desks to interact with individual students; increasingly limited curricular offerings; a distressing lack of counselors; and squalid and insufficient toilet facilities.”

Quoted in the press release from PILCOP, Helen Gym of Parents United said:

“The breadth of complaints we’ve received prove that the state must investigate the quality of education in the School District of Philadelphia. It is simply unacceptable for the state to ignore the claims of hundreds of parents representing 40 percent of District schools. We encourage parents to continue to make their voices heard and document issues in schools by submitting complaints through myphillyschools.com.”

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About Kenneth Lipp

Kenneth is a writer and researcher. He’s from Alabama, and will not apologize for it. He moved to Pennsylvania in 2012, but has been in love with Philadelphia since a late-night stroll down Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum in July of 2011 with the love of his life. He is interested in telling Philadelphia’s dynamic and absolutely unique stories with the zeal of a constantly enamored newcomer. Kenneth is also passionate about government transparency and protection of whistleblowers, most notably PFC Chelsea Manning. His research and reporting on law enforcement and surveillance have been featured in various publications, including Rolling Stone (Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters) and Popular Science (Boston Tested Crowd-Watching Software That Catalogues People's Skin Color). His training is in both genetics and history and he likes the joke about being a helicase and unzipping your “genes.” He’s driven to know, and thinks you can handle, the truth. Follow him on Twitter @kennethlipp.

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