Parents who went to Court to force state education officials to investigate hundreds of complaints about woefully inadequate conditions in the School District of Philadelphia may continue to pursue their case under a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court decision issued today. The Commonwealth Court rejected arguments by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) in Allen v. Dumaresq that the department could not be compelled to investigate curriculum deficiencies, even though state regulations require it to do so.
At the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, hundreds of Philadelphia parents filed complaints with PDE about the curriculum and other issues in their schools under a procedure set forth under state regulations. In all about 825 complaints were filed, from 75 different schools. State officials did not respond at all to most families; in those few instances where the state did respond, it denied that the state has any responsibility for conditions in Philadelphia schools.
Through their lawyers at the Public Interest Law Center, seven parents and Parents United for Public Education filed suit in Commonwealth Court last August, alleging that PDE had violated its legal obligation to investigate the complaints.
Tim Allen, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and the father of a rising senior at Bodine High School for International Affairs, stated: “I filed a complaint with PDE because my son’s high school quit offering four years of foreign languages, even though the school’s theme is international affairs. PDE wrote back and said they wouldn’t do anything about it because it was a ‘local matter.’ I hope that after today’s decision, PDE will finally fulfill its mandate to oversee the public schools.”
PDE asked the court to dismiss the case, claiming that the parents’ allegations did not address deficiencies in “curriculum.” The Commonwealth Court disagreed. The court found the parents had alleged deficiencies regarding the elimination of physical education and gifted classes, reduction of foreign language offerings, dilution of the accelerated nature of honors programs, and decrease of art programs. The court also held that PDE did not have to investigate parental complaints about certain other issues on the grounds that they were non-“curricular,” such as a shortage of school counselors, overcrowded classrooms, and squalid building conditions, although the court did note the impact of these areas on “a student’s educational experience and the proficiency level achieved.”
Amy Laura Cahn, an attorney for the parents, said: “We are pleased the Court reaffirmed state’s ultimate responsibility for public education in Pennsylvania. Here that means PDE must investigate parental complaints about curriculum deficiencies.”