by Sue Ann Rybak
The Pennsylvania Department of Education has found curriculum deficiencies in four Philadelphia schools, including C.W. Henry Elementary School, Philadelphia High School for the …
by Sue Ann Rybak
The Pennsylvania Department of Education has found curriculum deficiencies in four Philadelphia schools, including C.W. Henry Elementary School, Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, and the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush and has ordered the district to create corrective action plans within 45 days.
Amy Laura Cahn, staff attorney with the Public Interest Law Center, said this is the first time PDE has ever investigated a complaint of curriculum deficiencies under a state regulation that requires the department to oversee local school districts’ curricula.
The action is a result of a lawsuit filed in 2014 by seven parents and Parents United for Public Education, with help from the Public Interest Law Center, after the district failed to respond to their complaints – just a small portion of the 825 complaints filed against the district two years ago by parents from 75 schools after massive state budget cuts forced the district to cut funding for music, art, physical education, gifted and foreign language programs, and lay off hundreds of counselors, nurses and special education teachers.
Cahn said the four complaints “really just represent a much broader universe of complaints investigated by PDE.”
Mt. Airy resident Robin Roberts, one of the parents involved in the lawsuit, said thatwhen the district failed to respond to her complaints she had to take action.
“When I filed my complaints in 2013, I received no response from the district, and I still haven't received a response from the district about my complaint.”
Roberts, whose son used to attend C.W. Henry School, said she filed two complaints – one regarding the loss of instructional time and basic maintenance issues at Henry and another one regarding the elimination of all gifted programming in the district.
She said at the time school officials attempted to compensate by implementing other programming that didn't fulfill the state-mandated instruction for those students with gifted individualized education plans.
She added that even though her son is no longer at Henry, the lack of adequate programming is still affecting the curriculum of other students with special IEPs or gifted IEPs.
Roberts said the bottom line is children are not getting what they need from the current program.
“This ruling is telling the district and the leadership at Henry School that a change needs to be made, so that the children who have gifted IEPs or regular IEPs receive the instruction they need – taught in a way the state mandates.”
Cahn added that while the district did briefly respond that they have a program at Henry, it does not meet the state mandate.
“Gifted programming is mandated and it has to be individualized,” she explained.
She said PDE findings confirm that the programming is inadequate.
“PDE heard from the Commonwealth Court that they had to investigate under their own regulations, which they did through a series of letters sent through PDE to the district,”Cahn said. “This lawsuit gets the administration of the executive branch to understand what's happening on a district by district level. And it’s really providing families and teachers a voice in that process.
“The Department of Education saw fit to create regulations that provided families and teachers a voice – the opportunity to come to PDE and say, 'Look, there are curriculum deficiencies in my school. You have to look at this.' PDE has never used that regulation before. They have never investigated a curriculum deficiency before, so this is the first incident that we know of based on the Discovery that we have gotten from PDE.”
The district has until mid-January to create corrective action plans for those four schools. Then, PDE will have to approve the plans and oversee their implementation.
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