School Climate & Safety

Phila. Students Sue Over Ban From Schools

By Rhea R. Borja — October 09, 2002 3 min read

Two Philadelphia students have filed a lawsuit challenging a new state law that automatically bars students who have been judged delinquent or who are on probation from attending regular schools.

Critics of the measure, called Act 88, say it unfairly punishes some students and may irreparably harm their chances of getting a good education. Supporters say the law, passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in June, removes the bad apples from the classroom, gives delinquent youths the help they need, and ensures a safe environment for all students.

The law affects only students in the 205,000-student Philadelphia school system, which has approximately 5,000 students on probation and about 1,400 in juvenile detention.

The law is unnecessary, its opponents say, because the Philadelphia district, like the state’s other school districts, already has the authority to transfer violent or disruptive students to alternative schools.

They also question why the law targets only Philadelphia students.

“Is there something about Philadelphia children that makes them less deserving of basic fairness?” Len Rieser, a co-director of the Philadelphia-based Education Law Center, said in a statement.

The measure is the first in the country to ban delinquent youths from regular classes regardless of their potential for violence or disruption, according to Marsha Levick, the legal director of the Juvenile Law Center, a public-interest law firm in Philadelphia.

Ms. Levick’s organization and the Education Law Center represent the two students, who claim that the law violates their rights under the U.S. Constitution and the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. They filed the lawsuit Sept. 25 in Philadelphia County’s Common Pleas Court.

‘Blunt Tool’?

Three-quarters of the students affected by Act 88 were adjudicated for nonviolent offenses, Ms. Levick said, but the law doesn’t allow them to challenge their placement in alternative schools. Moreover, she said, students who have successfully completed their time in detention centers will be punished twice under the law.

“The law is such a blunt tool. What gets lost here is that kids who come out [of detention centers] do so because their facility is satisfied with their progress,” Ms. Levick said. “To the extent the legislature wants to provide these kids with a transitional school period, well, that’s what they just had.”

One of the students who filed the suit, a 16-year-old identified as W.G., was judged delinquent after throwing a bottle at a police car. W.G., who is described as an average student who had never been suspended, complied with the terms of his probation and performed community service. But because of Act 88, he can’t go back to his regular school, the lawsuit says.

State Rep. John Perzel, a Republican who sponsored the legislation, scoffed at such complaints. He plans to tweak the legislation so it doesn’t affect students who have committed minor infractions, he said, but stands by the intent of Act 88.

“When I was a kid—you don’t throw a bottle at a police car. That’s not a rational thing to do,” he said. “What are we saying to society, that anything goes?”

Philadelphia district officials, who have implemented a new zero-tolerance policy on school violence and disruption, also support the measure. They are working with a private company, Community Education Partners, to expand the capacity of their alternative schools, and are seeking other providers to accommodate the glut of students expected to enroll in such facilities as a result of the law.

School officials contend that Act 88 and district policy do not permanently bar adjudicated or probationary students from regular classes. Once students prove that they’ve reached certain academic, behavioral, and social goals, the officials say, they can switch from alternative schools to regular schools, at the district’s discretion.

The district recently launched a new program to help delinquent youths make the transition more smoothly.

“There are choices,” said Gwen Morris, the executive director of the office of instructional and behavioral intervention. “Everyone doesn’t have to follow the same path.”

But Act 88 could actually help push students to repeat their mistakes, cautioned Peter E. Leone, the project director for the National Center for Education, Disability, and Juvenile Justice, based in College Park, Md.

“Higher rates of educational attainment are linked to lower rates of re-arrest,” he said.

Related Tags:


Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Spotlight Spotlight on Safe Reopening
In this Spotlight, review how your district can strategically apply its funding, and how to help students safely bounce back, plus more.

School Climate & Safety Interactive Which Districts Have Cut School Policing Programs?
Which districts have taken steps to reduce their school policing programs or eliminate SRO positions? And what do those districts' demographics look like? Find out with Education Week's new interactive database.
A police officer walks down a hall inside a school
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (images: Michael Blann/Digital/Vision; Kristen Prahl/iStock/Getty Images Plus )
School Climate & Safety These Districts Defunded Their School Police. What Happened Next?
Six profiles of districts illustrate the tensions, successes, and concerns that have accompanied the changes they've made to their school police programs over the last year.
Deering High School in Portland, Maine, one of two schools to have their SROs removed.
Deering High School in Portland, Maine, one of two schools to have their SROs removed.
Ryan David Brown for Education Week
School Climate & Safety Defunded, Removed, and Put in Check: School Police a Year After George Floyd
Education Week has identified 40 school districts that defunded their police after last summer's Black Lives Matter protests.
Police officer outside of a school
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (image: Bastiaan Slabbers/iStock)