Philly Complaints Project

In September 2013, Philadelphia schools began operating on what District officials themselves described as a “Doomsday Budget.” Soon after, the Law Center, Parents United and the Media Mobilizing Project launched, an online portal through which parents have submitted over 825 complaints to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) documenting dire school conditions.

Problems alleged by parents include alarming levels of overcrowding such that teachers can no longer walk between desks to interact with individual students; increasingly limited curricular offerings; a distressing lack of counselors; and squalid and insufficient toilet facilities.

File a Complaint Online

If you are aware of an education deficiency, we urge you to file an administrative complaint with the PDE through State law requires the Secretary of Education investigate allegations of curriculum deficiencies and lack of services which can include lack of art, music, counseling, certain staffing patterns, etc., or lack of support and educational services for students with special needs. When you file your complaint, we receive a copy and we are able to track the state’s response to your complaint.

Know your rights: File a complaint on Philly school crisis

2014 Philly Complaints Project flyer

The portal is made possible through a partnership with Parents United for Public Education, the Media Mobilizing Project and the offices of City Councilmembers Bill Green and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez.

Philly Complaints: Allen v. PDE 

After one year of complaints, the vast majority of parents have received either a generic form letter or no response at all. The Law Center filed a suit against the state on September 9, 2014, on behalf of seven Philadelphia School District parents and Parents United for Public Education in the Commonwealth Court alleging that the Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education Carolyn Dumaresq has violated her legal obligation to investigate allegations of curriculum deficiencies in Philadelphia public school. For more information click here

Case Updates

Submit Nursing Complaints to, a web site set up in partnership with Parents United for Public Education and other groups and elected officials, is now accepting nursing-related complaints.

In 2013, the Philly Complaints Project provided an opportunity for parents, caregivers, students and teachers to register their concerns about conditions of Philadelphia District schools with the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education. While currently we are seeking nursing-related complaints, parents can still submit other complaints as well.

To submit your complaint, head to

Helen Gym Submits Open Letter on Proposed Legal Complaints

Helen Gym of Parents United for Public Education submitted an open letter on proposed legal complaints on school opening in Philadelphia.

She said, “As we enter a second year of unprecedented budget cuts, the underfunding of the state-controlled School District has never been more clear: Every single school across the city is crippled by the deliberate failure to staff them safely and responsibly. As the school year begins, it has become more important than ever for us to document and register formal complaints with the Pennsylvania Dept. of Education.”

Read the full letter here.

Law Center to Re-launch (August 2014)

Law Center to re-launch after Pennsylvania Department of Education fails to act on 825 allegations of curriculum deficiencies in Philadelphia.

Staff attorney Amy Laura Cahn provided an update on the Philly Complaints Project and at a press conference on Thursday hosted by State Senator Vincent Hughes. In 2013, the Philly Complaints Project provided an Amy Laura Philly Complaints Press Conferenceopportunity for parents, caregivers, students and teachers to register their concerns about conditions of Philadelphia District schools with the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education.

As many as 825 allegations of curriculum deficiencies occurring within the District were collected and forwarded to the Secretary, many of which were submitted through, a web site set up by Parents United for Public Education and other groups and elected officials.

However, Ms. Cahn said, “Even though Pennsylvania law unambiguously obligates the Secretary of Education to investigate allegations of curriculum deficiencies, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has declined to conduct any meaningful investigation, let alone to take corrective action.”

The complaints cover a wide range of deficiencies, many of which were also referenced by State Senator Hughes at the press conference. Click here to read his fact-finding report on school conditions from last school year.

The allegations tell stories of elementary schools without a single guidance counselor, physical education teacher, art teacher, or nurse; of the decline in educational quality because students feel unsafe in school; and of physical conditions, particularly unsanitary toilet conditions, that interfere with a child’s capacity to learn, among many others.

The re-launch of will serve as a mechanism for parents, caregivers, teachers, and students to document the crisis conditions with which Philadelphia’s young people are forced to live.

Ms. Cahn said, “It is critical that people throughout the city, state and nation understand the everyday reality that underfunding has created for Philadelphia public school students and their families.”

The Law Center is planning to file a lawsuit based on these complaints.

Press Coverage:

Philadelphia School District Nursing Services Out of Compliance According to State (December 2013)

On December 24, 2013, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and the Bureau of Special Education concluded that the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) is out of compliance with federal regulations that require the provision of nursing services to students with IEPs or section 504 agreements. In its complaint report, the PDE pointed out that the SDP did not provide sufficient information on the issue since 44 out of 98 schools investigated did not fully complete its survey. The PDE specifically ordered two schools to implement corrective action and provide nursing services by January 23, 2014. Parents whose children are still not receiving nursing care required by their plans should contact the Law Center or go to to file a state complaint.

State Orders Principals to Respond to Survey about Nursing Services (November 2013)

On November 27th, the state Bureau of Special Education issued surveys about nursing services to 100 principals in the School District of Philadelphia. The surveys request information on nursing services for students with IEPs and Section 504 agreements.

This is an unusual step. We will keep you posted if we receive information once the surveys have been completed.

Councilwoman Blackwell Urges Department of Education Secretary to Investigate Group Complaints (November 2013)

On November 22nd, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell sent a letter to Department of Education and Acting Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq urging the department to investigate staffing shortages as outlined in the group complaints we filed. Read the full letter here.

State Responds to Group Nursing Complaint; Only Takes Partial Responsibility (November 2013)

On November 8th, we received a letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Education in response to the group complaint we filed regarding the shortage of nurses. In the letter, the state indicates that it will investigate the lack of nurses specifically related to students with disabilities by reviewing current staffing plans and conducting onsite visits. The Department of Education further states that it is not responsible for investigating this complaint related to non-disabled students and places that responsibility with the Office of Student Services. The state is also referring the matter to the Department of Health. The letter does not indicate if the department has any plans to meet with parents or advocates during its investigation. Please continue to report nursing shortage issues through to keep the pressure on the state. Click here to read the letter.

Group Complaints Filed Regarding Lack of Nurses and Guidance Counselors (October 2013)

The number of complaints that have come in related to the lack of nurses and guidance counselors has been staggering. As such, we have filed group complaints related to the extreme nurse and counselor shortage, imploring the Department of Education to protect the life and well-being of students.

Since September 9th, the majority of Philadelphia’s public schools have been without a full-time guidance counselors. As many as seven or eight schools may share one guidance counselor, a ratio of one counselor for every 2,000-3,000 students. Read the full group complaint on lack of guidance counselors here.

Likewise, the majority of nursing care in schools is half-time or less. Recent estimates show there are just under 180 nurses for more than 223,000 students. One student has already died, possibly because there was no medical professional on site at her school when she fell ill. Many other students especially those who are young, those who need supervision when taking medication, or those who have asthma or other chronic health issues, are at significant risk without full-time access to nurses during the school day. Read the full group complaint on lack of nurses here.

Other Resources

File a Complaint by Mail or Phone

To file a complaint via phone call the Pennsylvania Department of Education Special Education Consult Line at 1-800-879-2301. If your child is five or under, the number is 1-800-692-7288.

A State employee is to call you back and assist you. Please email us at to let you know that you filed a complaint by phone.

If you wish to file a complaint about curriculum deficiencies via mail, use this form. If you wish to file a complaint about lack of special education services for a student with an IEP, use this form. We encourage you also to send us copies of complaints you file to

Resources for Students on IEPs or needing IEPs

  • Contact the State Consult line at 1-800-879-2301 or 717-783-6913. You may also use an on-line request form which is available at:
  • If you need assistance with a student who is five yearas old or younger, contact the Early Intervention Service at 800-692-7288.
  • You can file for a due process hearing. The resolution time frame for these hearings can be long, frequently more than 75 days. You can find the forms you need to file for a hearing online at:
  • Look into an alternative dispute resolution. This alternative may include facilitated IEP meetings, mediation without lawyers or an Evaluative Conciliation Conference. You can learn more and find appropriate forms at:
  • If a gifted student is in need of additional support, learn more about the hearing and complaint processes here:


For inquiries or interviews, contact Barb Grimaldi at 267.546.1304 or

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