Your Legal Rights Toolkit

As parents, we are deeply concerned about the rampant negligence due to the deliberate underfunding of Philadelphia’s public schools. Last year, Parents United for Public Education helped parents file over 800 complaints from more than 90 different schools – the largest filing from any school district in a single year. The complaints focused on a host of issues, including:

  • enormous class sizes – from the middle to upper 30s well into the 50s per teacher all across the city with no relief until October
  • at least 100 split grade classrooms across the city
  • no full-time guidance counselors in a majority of schools, including half of all high schools
  • only one guidance counselor allotted to schools with student populations above 600
  • roving counselor team with a per student ratio of approximately one to 3,000 students
  • one secretary per school with many schools using volunteers to handle potentially private matters
  • zero full-time librarians (only 12 exist in entire city used as prep teachers)
  • one nurse per every 1,500 students.
  • a new bullying and harassment policy – particularly important given two dozen school closings merging student populations across neighborhood lines – is rendered nearly useless since there are no assistant principals in schools with under 850 students

We believe the appalling situation last year and the continuation of resource-starved classrooms this year challenges whether the state-controlled School District of Philadelphia is providing a “thorough and efficient” education according to the state constitution.  We are working with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia with support from the Education Law Center a to help parents know their rights and file complaints with the State Department of Education.

What are our legal rights?

(Read our full piece on your legal rights under the PA State Code)

The Pennsylvania state constitution mandates that students be provided with a “thorough and efficient system of public education.” In particular, we intend our complaints to trigger provisions within the state code around curriculum mandates.  These are requirements that the curriculum include the instruction of art, music, dance, and theater for every student in every school every year, as well as “comprehensive and integrated K-12 student services,” which specifically names guidance counseling as an integral part of every school. There are also specific provisions requiring schools to have “sufficient numbers of qualified professional employees” to enforce the curriculum requirements.

According to the Pennsylvania code, if children are being denied these services, we have the right to file a complaint, and the Secretary of Education has a responsibility to investigate any complaints of deficiency (22 Pa. Code § 4.81). For more details on the PA State Code requirements, see Our Legal Rights section.

Parents must exercise their legal rights and begin filing massive complaints with the Secretary of Education. The state has a consultation hotline, where a state department employee offers guidance to help resolve problems. The hotline must record and log all calls. That phone number is:  800-879-2301

Our goal is to document and make clear the widespread and harmful impact of the District’s failure to provide these mandates thus violating the state constitution. This is not an effective process if you have a complaint about school staff. The purpose of this effort is to focus on the mandates of the state constitution, not on our school leaders and staff. We encourage educators, teachers, students and parents to file complaints and call the hotline as frequently and as soon as possible.

Filing a complaint

You can file a complaint online at: www.myphillyschools.com

You can also download the following documents to mail it in by hand:

  1. General complaint form for mainstream students (those without IEPs)
  2. IEP complaint form for both gifted and special needs students

Complaints must be signed (you can take a photo and upload it electronically too) and sent to:

Carolyn Dumaresq, Ed.D., Acting Secretary of Education

Pennsylvania Department of Education
333 Market Street
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17126-0333

Email: cdumaresq@pa.gov

We are asking parents and all those submitting a complaint to make one copy for yourself and to forward another one to either PILCOP or Parents United (which will send it to PILCOP). Complaints filed online at http://www.myphillyschools.com will do this automatically.

Groups and organizations such as HSAs, school councils, community groups, faith-based gatherings, student organizations, and others can file group complaints – but these should not take the place of individual complaints. The reason why is that the specific harms to students can best be done through individual complaints. However, group complaints can be an effective way to do both at the same time.

What parents can do

  1. Call and report: If your school is lacking in services, call the State hotline: 800-879-2301. The state is required to log and record all calls. This is a simple action that gets you in touch with an individual and makes your concern heard and recorded.
  2. File a complaint: If your child has a specific need that isn’t met, file a complaint. Examples: extreme overcrowding, split grades due to lack of teacher; no art, music, dance or theater programming offered; if your child needed a guidance counselor or language translation services and it was not provided on that day; if you  requested your child’s IEP and it was not provided to you within a week’s time, etc.
  3. Share with fellow parents: Share the complaint forms with your fellow parents. Explain to school staff that this is not a personal complaint about their professionalism but about the state’s responsibility to provide mandated services according to state law.
  4. Schedule Know Your Rights sessions in your school or community: Help us set up a regional or school based meeting to get parents to know their rights and file complaints.

Contact information

Sonja Kerr, Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia: skerr@pilcop.org, 215-627-7100, x229 or 267-546-1319

Michael Churchill, Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia: mchurchill@pilcop.org, 267-546-1318

Helen Gym, Parents United for Public Education, parentsunitedphila@gmail.com

Read more

Philadelphia Inquirer, page A1: http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/campus_inq/Philly-parents-concerned-about-special-needs-students-.html

KYW1060/CBS3: Parents considering legal action over hobbled schools: http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2013/09/05/parents-considering-legal-action-over-hobbled-philadelphia-schools/

8 thoughts on “Your Legal Rights Toolkit

  1. Pingback: Two Ways to Fight for School Funding This Week. | Forrest Elementary Home & School Association

  2. This “Know Your Rights Toolkit” is excellent. Pass this tool kit on to any and everyone who has or knows a student in the School District of Philadelphia.

  3. Pingback: Know Your Rights – File a Complaint | WeArePCAPS

  4. Thank you for the information. I have a question. My son graduated in June and was unable to start college as scheduled because a principal (contacted post June 30) failed to send his transcript as requested and failed to follow up with me. It took several weeks of calls to reach the school after the request was made as no one answered the phone and the voicemail was full. Can I file a complaint if he is no longer a student?
    I am extremely concerned about this year’s high school seniors. The college application process will be nearly impossible without guidance counselors. This is not what students who have worked hard in preparation for college deserve. I am disgusted.

  5. My daughter goes to Bridesburg Elemtrey School, and they are suffering terribly. The classroom is over crowded and understaffed. They need to find the money like they do for everything else these are small children the future of our country and if we do not educate them now by the time they reach the higher grades we are in trouble. These charter schools are nothing but corporate Greed bottom line. Taking away everything that America was built on. They do not even have Workbooks to do their work in. Not every Child can get into these Charter Schools so they should not suffer because they did not get picked from their lottery. In The city of Philadelphia we get taxed for everything and now are raising our Realstate Taxes but yet our neighborhood school must suffer. Would you like to see our neighborhood turn into a Ghetto? Where would you get the Tax money then from?

    They no longer have a school Nurse or a Theripist that they can turn to in time of need. Is that the American dream? We are taking more and more ppl into this country but yet can not take care of our own.

    It is a sad day here In Philadelphia I hope the People In Harrisburg and the People who have their money invested into these Charter Schools are happy

  6. Pingback: Small Ways to Help Philadelphia School District (or any school)

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