The School District of Philadelphia has proposed closing 37 schools in June and relocating seven others. The announcement has sparked heated debate and criticism by parents, students, and community members.
The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia has concerns that school closures could present serious consequences for students with disabilities and English language learners.
Limited resources make it highly unlikely that the District will be able to achieve a smooth transition for students with disabilities, whose Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) must be revisited or revised.
English language learners are also vulnerable. The District has indicated in a “Facilities Master Plan FAQ” that current ESOL services will follow students to the receiving school, but the District has been unclear how this will take place.
For those attending a special education program in a school targeted for closing, the District has said that students with high-incidence disabilities (e.g. those in Learning Support classrooms) will be reassigned to the same school as their non-disabled peers. Other students – such as those with Emotional Support, Autism Support, Multiple Disabilities Support, or Life Skills Support – will be assigned to a class or program in another school. Classes may move as a whole, or students could be assigned to other classes/programs that have available space and are age-appropriate.
Details about the process are unclear, and the tight timeline for closing schools and relocating large numbers of students by September seems to preclude a thorough and adequate process for IEP development and planning for these students.
So, what can parents or guardians do to help ensure retention of needed services?
First, request an IEP meeting with the staff that currently serves the student. Ask staff from the potential receiving school to participate in the meeting.
Second, make sure the student’s IEP, progress reports, and most recent re-evaluation are up to date, that parents have a copy, and that the documents are entered into the District’s “Easy IEP” system.
Parents should also ask if the IEP team agrees with the proposed placement and discuss whether the services will be available at the receiving school.
Also, visit potential receiving schools. Concerns over whether receiving schools will meet student needs should be indicated in writing to the IEP team immediately. Parents can also request assistance through a Parent and Family Resource Center, or they can contact the Office of Specialized Services at 215-400-4170.
Parents who have children enrolled in ESOL programs should contact the bilingual counseling assistant at the child’s current school or the District’s Office of Multilingual Programs, which, according to the District, will reassign students.
Community members have legitimate concerns that closures could disproportionately affect areas with a large number of students of color and students with disabilities, as Action United has alleged in its complaint to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights regarding last year’s closures.
With the current plan for the School Reform Commission to vote in March on the recommendations and to send out school closing notices on April 1, the District would be wise to reduce the number of closures, create a longer timeframe for closures, or agree to the proposed one-year moratorium. Doing so will build community trust that will help to ensure the success of the District.