Philly parents file suit against Pa. Department of Education

Overcrowded classrooms, shortage of guidance counselors, lack of proper coursework.

These are among the reasons parents in the Philadelphia School District filed a lawsuit this week in Commonwealth Court against the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Parent Tim Allen sent his son to Bodine High based on its reputation as a high-achieving magnet school with an international focus.

But budget cuts in the past few years slashed faculty to the point that the school had just one foreign language teacher, and classroom overcrowding was widespread.

At a back-to-school night, Allen said he saw so many desks crammed in a classroom that it was clear the teacher physically couldn’t give kids individualized attention.

“And I ask, ‘Well, how do you walk around. And she says, ‘Well, I don’t,'” Allen recalled.

Based on these shortcomings, Allen wrote to the state Department of Education, which is legally obligated to investigate complaints of curricular deficiencies.

In all, 825 complaints were sent by parents, guardians, students and teachers last year.

“And I basically got a letter saying that it was entirely a local matter and there’s nothing they could do,” he said.

This frustrated Allen. “I thought we lived in a representative democracy, and when I have concerns about my son’s school, I thought that’s what the point of the Department of Education was.”

Allen is now one of seven parent plaintiffs demanding an investigation in a lawsuit organized by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. The parents have children at six different schools from elementary to high school.

Working alongside Parents United for Public Education, PILCOP pored through last year’s complaints to find those that specifically revealed curricular issues.

The lack of art, gym or language instruction violates state mandates and hurts students’ ability to be competitive college applicants, lawyers say.

In addition to collegiate and mental well-being concerns, the shortage of guidance counselors hurts students who find it more difficult to get help navigating the Philadelphia district’s complex landscape of high school options.

PILCOP says the Department of Education hasn’t investigated any of these concerns.

The department “said, ‘that’s not curricular,’ and forwarded them to the Philadelphia School District, but there’s been no resolution. There’s was no investigation,” said Amy Laura Cahn, a PILCOP lawyer working on the case.

Twenty-three state senators in the Democratic caucus signed a letter urging Carolyn Dumaresq, department secretary, to “take immediate action.”

Department officials said they cannot comment on pending litigation.

PILCOP urges parents to continue filing complaints at myphillyschools.com.

Lawyers there are also working on a lawsuit regarding statewide education funding.

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