Seven school district parents with the group Parents United for Public Education filed a lawsuit on Wednesday claiming that the Pennsylvania Department of Education has failed to investigate complaints about “curriculum deficiencies” in the School District of Philadelphia.
The suit, brought against Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education Carolyn Dumaresq, alleges that 825 complaints have not been dealt with properly by the state.
The petition cites Pennsylvania law, which mandates the Secretary is supposed to “receive and investigate allegations of curriculum deficiencies” but that she has failed to “conduct a meaningful investigation,” the petition to the Commonwealth Court said.
“What we want is for the court to order [the Department of Education] to do a meaningful investigation of these complaints and, if they find these problems are substantiated, to require the district to take remedial actions,” said Benjamin Geffen, a lawyer from the Public Interest Law Center who is representing the plaintiffs in the case.
Some complaints the parents allege went unaddressed include overcrowded classrooms, the lack of foreign language and physical education classes and the lack of full-time guidance counselors.
Pennsylvania state law says that schools must have at least two foreign languages other than English and “at least one of which shall be offered in a minimum four-year sequence in the secondary program (middle level and high school)”. Parent Tim Allen alleges in the petition that at his child’s high school, “[t]hey cut foreign language to just two years.”
According to the petition to the court, the complaints were filed individually with the state and through myphillyschools.com, a website set up by Parents United and other groups to send complaints directly to the Department of Education.
Of the 825 complaints that Parents United for Public Education collected and sent, a few received one-page letters, but most were met with no response at all, the petition said. The letters that did come back advised the parents that it was a local issue to be taken up with the district.
“The state ultimately bears the responsibly for what’s going on,” Geffen said. “It’s odd of the state to tell parents that these are purely local problems when they School District of Philadelphia is controlled by the state.”
A representative from the Department of Education contested the allegations in the petition.
"It is outrageous that anyone would question the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s commitment to the educational success and the health and safety of all Pennsylvania students," Pennsylvania Department of Education Press Secretary Tim Eller said in an emailed statement. "Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq has reviewed and managed every one of the complaints. Entities can allege what they want, but the facts in this case are different."
The current suit is unrelated to a potential lawsuit regarding the constitutionality of education funding in Pennsylvania, although the Law Center’s press release for this case indicated that one is forthcoming.
Update — Sept. 11, 2014: This article has been updated to include a statement from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.Comments powered by Disqus
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