The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has created its first-ever formal policyand procedure for accepting and responding to complaints from parents, teachers and advocates about curriculum deficiencies in public schools. The new process results from the settlement of a lawsuit we helped Philadelphia parents bring against PDE.
In 2014, following massive budget cuts by the state legislature, we worked with Parents United for Public Education, Media Mobilizing Project and City Councilmembers helped Philadelphia parents, teachers and advocates take advantage of a little-known state law that allowed them to file complaints with PDE alleging that the budget cuts had left students without state-mandated curriculum offerings such as foreign languages, physical education, and gifted programming.
After 825 complaints were filed, with few responses from PDE, we then helped parents bring a lawsuit (Allen v. Rivera) to ensure the state would investigate the complaints. In June 2015, the Commonwealth Court issued a ruling that affirmed PDE’s responsibility to investigate complaints about curriculum deficiencies. In another major win for parents, in December 2015 PDE found and declared curriculum deficiencies in four Philadelphia schools and ordered the School District of Philadelphia to create corrective action plans to remedy the problems.
Today, parents and advocates are applauding PDE for creating and implementing a new and transparent policy and procedure to make sure all future complaints are appropriately addressed. PDE has created a form for use in filing complaints. PDE will make this form accessible on its website and will circulate information on the new policy and procedure to all school districts and charter schools across the state. Parents can also submit complaints online through myphillyschools.com.
“I want to thank the Pennsylvania Department of Education for making this process clear and functional for parents so that we can have a voice in our children’s education and hold the state accountable to their needs,” said Robin Roberts, a Philadelphia parent who filed a number of complaints in 2014. “I filed a complaint after the School District of Philadelphia eliminated gifted programming and my son was left with inadequate academic classes. Because of my complaint and PDE’s action, this problem is now being addressed. I plan to keep using the complaints process if problems persist or new problems arise at my children’s schools and I encourage all parents to use this for curricular problems that their children may face.”
“We commend the Pennsylvania Department of Education for working with parents to create and publish this policy and procedure,” said Ben Geffen, Public Interest Law Center attorney for the plaintiffs. “As the state legislature continues to fail to adequately fund public education, this complaints process provides parents with an important tool to make sure the state is aware of and investigating the curriculum deficiencies we know exist in so many underfunded school districts across the Commonwealth.”
“Philadelphia parents are some of the greatest advocates for our city’s children. This new process provides them an additional avenue to document the serious shortfalls caused by underfunding and ensure all students receive a high-quality public education,” said Philadelphia City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who supported the launch of the initiative in partnership with former council member Bill Green.
“This victory by Philadelphia parents is a victory for every parent across the Commonwealth,” said Councilmember Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, one of the plaintiffs of Allen v. Rivera. Gym and Parents United traveled to dozens of schools to help parents file the initial 825 complaints. “As our legislature continues to stall on fair and equitable funding, this complaints process is a means of ensuring parents have a voice in the quality of education of their child. I urge parents across the Commonwealth to embrace this process and start using it now to make our public education system work for everyone, everywhere.”
Under the new process, PDE staff members will review complaints to ensure they are related to curriculum, conduct an investigation within 90 days after reviewing a complaint, and investigate whether curriculum deficiencies exist. Where there are deficiencies, PDE will order school districts to create corrective action plans and will review the implementation of those plans.
Parents will soon be able to access PDE’s complaint online, or they can submit complaints online through myphillyschools.com. Complaints can be about curriculum deficiencies such as failure to provide instruction in science and technology, social studies, career education, physical education, language arts, or foreign language. The state law does not apply to complaints about a school’s non-instructional staffing, such as guidance counselors and nurses, nor does it cover facilities, such as building capacity and conditions.