In January we responded to the state’s preliminary objections in our legal challenge against the Secretary and Department of Education’s failure to investigate allegations filed by Philly parents.
The state claims it did investigate the more than 800 complaints filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) during the 2013-2014 school year.
However, we do not believe that the state’s actions, such as sending form letters to some parents, referring some allegations to the School District of Philadelphia, and failing to communicate entirely with other parents, constitute an “investigation.” Instead, the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE) response to 825 allegations was to do nothing.
Allegations from parents include stories like those from petitioner Tim Allen: Mr. Allen filed a complaint because his son’s high school classrooms were so packed that desks were no more than one foot apart and teachers could not move around the room of students. In addition, a once vibrant foreign language program was reduced to just one 2-year Spanish course. Another parent, petitioner Christianne Kapps filed complaints because her daughter had no physical education classes. And still other complaints included stories like petitioner Christine Plush’s, who stated that without full-time guidance counselors at the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush, “Students who are in emotion[al] crisis are neglected or other staff are spread thin in an effort to support them.”
The state also claims that most of these allegations, such as crowded classrooms and lack of guidance counselors, don’t constitute curricular matters and that the PDE is therefore not required to investigate non-curricular matters. Contrary to those claims, we believe that these issues are truly curriculum deficiencies.
In fact, state law and school district regulations both recognize that things like guidance counselors and appropriate building conditions are essential to all students achieving their academic potential:
“Classrooms without room to maneuver prevent teachers from engaging one-on-one with students and tailoring instruction to students’ individual strengths and needs; classrooms without space between desks hinder teachers from teaching students how to work collaboratively in small groups or achieve the discipline required to cover the mandated topics of instruction, both important developmental skills. Accordingly, each of these allegations is an instance in which “planned instruction” in the District was not “implemented in a manner designed to result in the achievement at the proficient level by all students,” 22 Pa. Code § 4.3, and thus each is an “allegation of curriculum deficiencies” requiring investigation by the Secretary under 22 Pa. Code § 4.81…Allegations of overcrowded classrooms, wretched building conditions, and insufficient overall staffing are thus allegations of curriculum deficiencies that the Secretary must investigate under Section 4.81.
Now that we have filed our response to the state’s preliminary objections, the state will have an opportunity to reply. Then, we expect a three-judge panel will issue a decision.