School Climate & Safety

Phila. Students Sue Over Ban From Schools

By Rhea R. Borja — October 09, 2002 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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:

Events

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.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
When SEL Curriculum Is Not Enough: Integrating Social-Emotional Behavior Supports in MTSS
Help ensure the success of your SEL program with guidance for building capacity to support implementation at every tier of your MTSS.
Content provided by Illuminate Education
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.
Sponsor
Teaching Profession Webinar
Professional Wellness Strategies to Enhance Student Learning and Live Your Best Life
Reduce educator burnout with research-affirmed daily routines and strategies that enhance achievement of educators and students alike. 
Content provided by Solution Tree
English-Language Learners Webinar The Science of Reading and Multilingual Learners: What Educators Need to Know
Join experts in reading science and multilingual literacy to discuss what the latest research means for multilingual learners in classrooms adopting a science of reading-based approach.

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 Opinion How Do We Collaborate When Tensions Are Running High?
Conflict is all around us these days, but don't despair. Education and DEI leaders offer their ideas to foster collaboration.
Sean Slade
5 min read
Screen Shot 2022 07 24 at 3.15.30 PM
Shutterstock
School Climate & Safety Texas School Principal Disputes Findings on Uvalde School Shooting
Mandy Gutierrez argues there was not a “culture of complacency” over safety at Robb Elementary School.
2 min read
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden comfort principal Mandy Gutierrez as superintendent Hal Harrell stands next to them at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School on May 29.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden comfort principal Mandy Gutierrez as superintendent Hal Harrell stands next to them at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School on May 29.
Dario Lopez-Mills/AP
School Climate & Safety Schools Make Few Changes to Minimize COVID's Impact, Despite New Variants
Some schools have moved to bolster staffing, but many are hoping for the best without doing much else differently compared with last year.
5 min read
FILE - A student wears a mask and face shield in a 4th grade class amid the COVID-19 pandemic at Washington Elementary School on Jan. 12, 2022, in Lynwood, Calif. As a new school year approaches, COVID-19 infections are again on the rise, fueled by highly transmissible variants, filling families with dread. They fear the return of a pandemic scourge: outbreaks that sideline large numbers of teachers, close school buildings and force students back into remote learning. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
School Climate & Safety Protecting Students With Disabilities in an Emergency: 5 Key Strategies
Students with disabilities are often left out of discussions about school safety. Here are five ways to ensure their needs are being met.
5 min read
Image of an evacuation plan.
cheyennezj/iStock/Getty