Philadelphia’s public schools may not have reopened yet, but parents are already thinking about taking legal action over this year’s cutbacks.
When classes start Monday, the school district will have about 3,000 fewer employees than it did in June. That amounts to a 15 percent cut to staff.
Sonja Kerr, director of disabilities rights for the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, provided legal advice to concerned parents Thursday. She doubts that the cash-strapped district will be able to fully meet the needs of children with disabilities.
“Children don’t know what school they’re going to. Children have transportation issues. Children with disabilities who need aides don’t have aides,” she said. “It’s going to be a very, very difficult year for children with disabilities.”
If problems arise, Kerr said that parents can file a complaint with the state Department of Education and school district. She also encouraged families to call the state’s help line for children with special needs (800-879-2301).
Kerr and parents said that their goal is to get the attention of the state government, which they see as shortchanging the city’s schools. The state funding the Philadelphia School District receives annually dropped by $145 million between mid-2010 and 2013, according to a city analysis confirmed by the district.
“We want to make it clear to the people making the decisions that for every dollar they’re not providing, there’s an impact,” said Kerr.
Helen Gym, co-founder of the advocacy group Parents United for Public Education, added that families shouldn’t hesitate to raise their concerns.
“If your school lacks a guidance counselor, which over 60 percent of them will, if you don’t have a school nurse for an asthmatic student, we want those complaints filed,” she said. “You don’t have to wait for something to happen.”
School district officials said they are working hard to meet children’s needs and will fulfill their legal obligations.