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SRC violated Pa. Sunshine Act, court complaint alleges

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools has filed suit about the SRC's action in voiding the teachers' contract last month.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Advocates have filed a complaint in Philadelphia court charging that the School Reform Commission violated the state Sunshine Act when it met Oct. 6 and voted to cancel the contract of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

The suit was filed by the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools in the Court of Common Pleas. In a statement, Lisa Haver of APPS, a plaintiff in the case, said, "The public should expect that the SRC would give adequate advance notice of such a major action, not take pains to shut the public out."

The School District has not offered a response and generally declines to comment on pending litigation.

Haver was one of only a handful of members of the public present when the SRC held a special meeting on a Monday morning with scant publicity and voted to impose a new, less expensive health benefits plan on teachers.

Haver asked to speak at the meeting, even though the SRC normally requires one day’s advance signup for testimony. She was allowed to testify, but only after the SRC had voted to void the contract. The APPS complaint argues that "the meeting was structured to defeat any public comment."

The District did run an ad in the Inquirer and on Philly.com, which appeared on Sunday, meeting the Sunshine Act’s requirement for publication of a meeting notice 24 hours in advance.

But the APPS complaint makes the following additional allegations:

  • That the notice for the meeting was "false" in that it said the meeting was for "general purposes."
  • That the notice and the timing of the meeting were "deliberately designed to conceal the meeting and the subject of it."
  • That the SRC did not adequately disclose deliberations that took place in executive sessions before the Oct. 6 meeting.

Complaints that the SRC violates the Sunshine Act have often arisen during its 13-year history, including one last year when the commission had failed to make public personnel resolutions.

This latest complaint alleges "a long pattern and practice by the SRC whereby most (if not almost all) real debate and decisions occur in secret and are merely rubberstamped in public."

Discussions related to litigation or the negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement are exempt from Sunshine Act provisions and may take place in executive session.

The legal question of whether the SRC had the right to abrogate the contract is pending in Commonwealth Court.

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