District Proposal Would Establish Segregated School for Students with Disabilities

UPDATE: The School Reform Commission revised and subsequently approved its special education proposal at its July 6 meeting. The new proposal, while improved, still does not go far enough toward advancing inclusion of students with disabilities.

Originally, the School District of Philadelphia requested that the School Reform Commission approve a $36 – 54 million dollar contract to establish a new, segregated school for students with low-incident disabilities. This proposal to place students with a wide range of diverse, low-incident disabilities in an entirely segregated setting was a huge step backwards from hard-fought gains to end discrimination against students with disabilities. The proposal raised significant legal, educational, and financial concerns, and threatened to deny students with low-incident disabilities their legal entitlement to be educated in the least restrictive environment alongside their non-disabled peers as required by federal and state laws.

We joined with Education Law Center-PA, the Philadelphia Coalition for Special Education Advocates, and other organizations in sending a letter to the School Reform Coalition, asking it to deny approval of this contract. We also testified twice regarding the proposal.

Our advocacy resulted in City Council’s involvement in reviewing the proposal and an improved, though still not ideal, program. The revised proposal will educate students with disabilities at existing district schools, is smaller in scope, and outlines the District’s close monitoring of the program. There is still, however, significant room for the District to improve its provision of fully integrated placements for students with disabilities.

The segregation of students with disabilities in a separate school deprives them of any interaction with non-disabled peers, including opportunities to learn, observe and be influenced by peers in a regular education setting. Such segregation often deprives students with disabilities of equal access to the full range of learning opportunities available to their non-disabled peers, constituting discrimination on the basis of disability.

Read our letter to the School Reform Coalition.

Read staff attorney Lee Awbrey’s testimony to the SRC on June 15, 2017.

Read staff attorney Lee Awbrey’s testimony to the SRC on July 6, 2017.