With resources stripped to bare-bones levels, parents in the Philadelphia school district filed more than 800 complaints last year to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
The office hasn’t investigated the claims, and last month The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court on behalf of seven parents and the advocacy group Parents United for Public Education in an attempt to compel action.
On Friday, Pennsylvania education secretary Carolyn Dumaresq petitioned the court to dismiss the case.
Dumaresq reasons that the complaints are not curricular, and thus don’t legally demand a state investigation.
Ben Geffen, an attorney with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, says Dumaresq’s logic is wanting. Many of the complaints, he says, were about insufficient offerings in state mandates such as foreign language and physical education coursework, as well as programs for gifted students.
Parent plaintiffs also decried the school district’s lack of guidance counselors and classroom overcrowding.
“It’s difficult to understand how these types of allegations could be anything other than curricular,” said Geffen.
Dumaresq has referred the complaints to the Philadelphia School District itself.
“That’s no kind of investigation,” said Geffen, who wants the state to do an independent probe.
“If you file a complaint against your car insurance company with the state department of insurance,” he said, “you wouldn’t be very pleased if you got a letter back saying, ‘we’re going to refer your complaint to your insurance company.'”
Geffen believes the Court will side with the parents and force Dumaresq to take corrective action.
“And if it’s an issue of money,” he said, “the state ultimately is who has the responsibility to make sure that adequate money is available for the school to provide a full curriculum.”
The State Department of Education could not be reached for comment on the Columbus Day holiday, but in the past has said it doesn’t discuss pending litigation.