PDE neglects to investigate hundreds of allegations documenting severe effects of underfunding
Philadelphia, Pa. – Today seven Philadelphia School District parents and Parents United for Public Education file a lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court alleging that the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has violated its legal obligation to investigate allegations of massive curriculum deficiencies in Philadelphia public schools. These plaintiffs are represented by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (Law Center).
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 myphillyschools.com. Through this online portal and through paper filings, Philadelphia parents have submitted over 825 complaints to PDE documenting dire school conditions. PDE is required to investigate these formal complaints. But after one year, the vast majority of parents have received only a generic form letter or no response at all.
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.
Tim Allen, a parent involved in the lawsuit, hopes the court will force PDE to investigate the crisis conditions found in schools like his son’s, the William Bodine High School for International Affairs. “I want my son, and all kids in the city of Philadelphia, to have equal access to a really good education that they can use to get into college,” Allen said. “Teachers and counselors are trying their hardest with the limited resources they have, but if the state will not investigate what is going on in city schools, Philadelphia’s kids will continue to suffer.”
“The breadth of complaints we’ve received prove that the state must investigate the quality of education in the School District of Philadelphia,” said Helen Gym of Parents United. “It is simply unacceptable for the state to ignore the claims of hundreds of parents representing 40 percent of District schools. We encourage parents to continue to make their voices heard and document issues in schools by submitting complaints through myphillyschools.com.”
“The State must be held accountable for its failure to address these allegations,” said Ben Geffen, Law Center staff attorney and counsel for the plaintiffs. “Secretary Dumaresq must know that responding to parents’ pleas with form letters and silence not only violates the trust of parents, but is also a clear violation of her department’s legal duties.”
NB: Press should note this case is distinct from the Law Center’s statewide lawsuit regarding education funding, which is forthcoming.