This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania education officials have ruled that the Education Law Center was right when it charged that the School District of Philadelphia violated the rights of about 800 students with disabilities who did not get needed services after entering kindergarten or 1st grade.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education has ordered the District to take corrective action to provide compensatory services for all children who were denied a free and appropriate public education due to the District’s delay and inaction.
The Education Law Center applauded the department’s findings and intervention, but said that more is needed.
“The department’s decision represents an important first step towards ensuring that all young children with disabilities receive the critical special education services they need from day one and are not forced to languish in kindergarten or 1st grade without the programming and support to which they are legally entitled,” said Sean McGrath, an attorney with the Education Law Center.
“However, we also believe that further and more specific corrective action is also necessary to ensure that each child receives the services and supports they need,” he said.
The District disputed some of the Ed Law Center’s contentions in a written statement.
“The information provided by the Education Law Center does not portray all the circumstances in which services are provided for transitioning students, and they have a basic misunderstanding of the diligence and professionalism of our staff who work with our students and their parents,” the statement said. “Although the District may have some delays in compiling a re-evaluation report for some students, data is gathered in many different ways. … At times, parents and families are unreachable for various reasons, and our teams of professionals work to gather the necessary student information. The District has and will continue to work closely with the Bureau of Special Education to improve the delivery of special education services for incoming Early Intervention students.”
The District will have to demonstrate that the children received those compensatory education services by filing an education plan with the state for each child who was denied services.
The department’s complaint investigation report found that, of the 836 children transitioning to the School District of Philadelphia who required re-evaluations, the District completed only 36 — or 4 percent of special education re-evaluations — within the 60-day time limit set by federal regulations.
Re-evaluations for 313 children still had not been completed by the time the report was issued on Oct. 6.
The report further found that, for those children who eventually received re-evaluations, only one-third received an Individualized Educational Program meeting within the 30-day timeline required by federal law.
When the report was filed, five weeks after the school year began, the District still had not completed the IEP process for the remaining two-thirds.
“It is our hope that the [state] bureau will take all the necessary steps to ensure an adequate remedy for children and that the District will undertake needed reforms to ensure that every child enters school with appropriate programming and services in place as required by law,” McGrath said.
In its statement on Monday, the District also put out a call for more psychologists to join the school system to help keep up with the workload.
“Our Office of Talent is addressing the need for more psychologists, in fact we are currently hiring at our District website, at www.philasd.org/jobs. These psychologists are a critical piece for our youngest learners and we are here to support them and their families.”
A copy of the original complaint and complaint investigation report can be found here.