Lawsuit charges discrimination in Philadelphia schools

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News from Pennsylvania

Four parents of children with autism filed a class action lawsuit June 20 against the Philadelphia School District, charging that its policy forcing children with autism to transfer to multiple schools during their elementary and middle school years constitutes discrimination.

Students with autism in the school district attend autism support classrooms, which the district divides into students between kindergarten and second grade, third and fifth grades, and sixth and eighth grades. However, the classes are “randomly placed,” in schools throughout the district, which forces the students to move from school to school.

The lawsuit content that this “one-size fits all” policy is “completely contrary” to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act because it excludes parents from decisions regarding their student’s school placement and doesn’t consider the students’ individualized circumstances. It also contends that the policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by requiring different enrollment policies between students with and without disabilities.

“Children with autism have difficulty with communication and social skills. Because of this, they have a hard time adjusting to new environments. Requiring these children to move from school to school makes no educational sense,” said Sonja D. Kerr, director of the Disability Rights Project at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, who is representing the parents, in a news release. “The District knows this policy is bad for children with autism but has failed to act to get rid of it.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, is on behalf of all students in the district between kindergarten and eighth grade potentially affected by the policy, which includes about 3,000 to 4,000 students. It seeks to overturn the policy and does not seek damages.