Gloves off: It’s time for parents to exercise our legal rights

(Cartoon: Signe Wilkinson, May 2012)

As we enter the school year, the purposeful underfunding and abuse of the state-controlled School District has never been more clear: 24 school closings. Children headed to schools even worse off than the ones they attended. Every single school across the city crippled by the deliberate refusal to staff them safely and responsibly. As the school year begins, it has never become more important for us to document and register formal complaints to record the neglect and abuse of Philadelphia’s children.

Parents are working with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia to document and report any and all complaints of the new school year. This process is for all students and families not just students with disabilities or IEPs.

The Pennsylvania state constitution mandates that students be provided with a “thorough and efficient system of public education.” The state code requires that the curriculum in schools includes the instruction of art, music, dance, and theater, as well as “comprehensive and integrated K-12 student services” and, in particular, guidance counseling services. There are also specific provisions requiring schools to have “sufficient numbers of qualified professional employees” to enforce the curriculum requirements. If children are being denied these services, you have the right to file a complaint, and the Secretary of Education has a responsibility to investigate any complaints of deficiency.

Our goal is to document and illustrate the widespread and harmful impact of the District’s violation of the state constitution and state code. The purpose of this effort is not to file complaints against principals orschool staff but to focus on the mandates of the state constitution. It’s important to make clear this is not a lawsuit. These are administrative complaints that are intended to document and make public how terrible the impact is on young people across the city.

We ask educators, teachers, students and parents to file complaints as frequently and as soon as possible.

Take Formal Action

Beginning on the first day of school and any or every day thereafter, if you encounter a problem with services, file a formal complaint:

  1. Call the state department hotline to complain: 800-879-2301. This state hotline must log and record all calls. A state department of ed employee is supposed to provide guidance to you. Please note the date you called and let us know as well;
  2. File a legal complaint with the state department (attached). You can find those forms for any student (ComplaintForm-general) and for students with or seeking an IEP or G-IEP (ComplaintForm-IEP). These complaints can be emailed (with scanned signature), mailed or faxed; and
  3. Make a copy of the complaint and send one to us or the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia for documentation.

This information is available for download on under our new Know Your Rights section and on the website for Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.

Anyone can make a complaint. Individual teachers, principals, volunteers in schools, parents, and students themselves can make a complaint. Group complaints are permissible: Home and School Associations, Town Watch/Safe Corridor programs, afterschool programs, preschool programs or student organizations for example.

Anyone experiencing problems in schools may make a formal complaint. The complaint does not have to be professionally written but it should be specific, noting the harm done. It’s not helpful to say your school lacks a guidance counselor and you’re worried. Here are better examples:

  • a child requested to see a counselor for any reason: high school options, personal concerns, etc. but none was available
  • a parent requested interpretation services in a foreign language  for something that needed to be addressed that day but none was available
  • a child experienced bullying and wanted to file a complaint but no one was available to take their complaint
  • split grade
  • serious overcrowding of classes (35+)
  • a parent at a new school requests to see their child’s IEP but no one can help them locate it within a reasonable time (one week)
  • a parent of a child with a disability requests and is not given specialized transportation options
  • no art/music/dance/theater programming in schools
  • a parent wants their child tested for an IEP but gets no response from the school within a reasonable time (one week)

Your child does not have to be physically injured or severely impacted before filing a complaint. However, please make sure your complaint documents actual concerns. If you need any help or have any questions, please contact us at the numbers below. We are scheduling regional meetings around the city and would love to host one in your area.

Many of us feel exhausted, worried and dismayed by the start of the year. We are hoping this collective action begins a process for us to find new ways to address the long-standing injustices of our schools. As parents we are angry and frustrated at the level of neglect which led to this chaotic opening of the school year. But now more than ever we must be vigilant and empowered. We must remain defiant about what’s happening in schools and we refuse to stop until this situation gets fixed.

Contact info:

Sonja Kerr, Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia:, 215-627-7100, x229 or 267-546-1319 

Michael Churchill, Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia:, 267-546-1318 

Helen Gym, Parents United for Public Education,

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