District Proposal Would Establish Segregated School for Students with Disabilities

UPDATE: The vote on this proposal has twice been postponed. We urge the Commission to reject the proposal in its current form, and we ask the District to work with parents and advocates to develop an alternate proposal to be considered at the July 6 meeting.

The School District of Philadelphia is requesting that the School Reform Commission approve a $36 – 54 million dollar contract to establish a new, segregated school for students with low-incident disabilities.

This proposal to place students with a wide range of diverse, low-incident disabilities in an entirely segregated setting is a huge step backwards from hard-fought gains to end discrimination against students with disabilities. The proposal raises significant legal, educational, and financial concerns, and threatens to deny students with low-incident disabilities their legal entitlement to be educated in the least restrictive environment alongside their non-disabled peers as required by federal and state laws.

We joined with Education Law Center-PA, the Philadelphia Coalition for Special Education Advocates, and other organizations in writing a letter to the School Reform Coalition, asking it to deny approval of this contract. A vote is scheduled for June 15, 2017.

The segregation of students with disabilities in a separate school negatively impacts students with disabilities by depriving them of any interaction with non-disabled peers, including opportunities to learn, observe and be influenced by peers in a regular education setting. Such segregation often deprives students with disabilities of equal access to the full range of learning opportunities available to their non-disabled peers, constituting discrimination on the basis of disability.

The District appears to believe that it is appropriate to develop this segregated venue on the ground that students with low-incident disabilities are already in segregated settings. However, those placements were provided because the District has not had the programs and services available to meet those particular students’ needs. It is difficult to believe that the District could not develop more integrated programs with the $36-54 million dollars it is about to throw into this new intensely segregated setting.

This new school is scheduled to open in September with very little notice to parents, students and others who would be attending the new school. Uprooting and disrupting children with disabilities – particularly students with autism who rely on routine and stability – is clearly detrimental. Moreover, the District has failed to disclose any information about the programs, services, and supports available in the new school in order to enable parents to make a knowing, informed and thoughtful decision and the appropriateness of such an educational placement for their child and their child’s future.

For all of these reasons, we strongly urge the Commission to deny approval of the contract which seeks to establish a new segregated school for students with low-incident disabilities and instead, support these students to be educated in a beneficial, inclusive learning environment in accordance with their legal rights under federal and state law.

Read the full letter to the School Reform Coalition.