by Naveed Ahsan
Parents United for Public Education and the Public Interest Law Center of Pennsylvania have filed hundreds of complaints with Pennsylvania’s Acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq. The complaints highlight program and curriculum deficiencies that these groups believe are in violation of the Pennsylvania code, which says that students must be provided with a “thorough and efficient system of education.”
Helen Gym, founder of Parents United, said that the most common complaints involved the lack of personnel, such as nurses monitoring children with severe disabilities or guidance counselors or staff designated to deal with bullying.
“These children are being given inadequate resources and insufficient resources,” Gym said.
“We have children in crisis, and these are situations that have to be dealt with today.”
Within the first week of October, a total of 260 complaints were submitted, Gym said. By mid-November, that number increased to more than 800, from 82 schools. Many of the complaints were submitted to Dumaresq’s office before her October decision to release $45 million in federal funds promised to Philadelphia – money that the state had been withholding while awaiting reforms.
Complaints about inadequate personnel largely stem from the layoffs of nearly 4,000 employees this year and the elimination of additional jobs through attrition.
Since the original budget cuts, the District has called back nearly half of the laid-off workers, but the overall reduction in the workforce since the spring is nearly 3,000 employees. Many schools still lack key personnel such as counselors, librarians, and nurses, and suffer from overcrowded and split-grade classrooms (classes that have students from two different grades).
To help parents file their grievances, Parents United launched an online complaint site, myphillyschools.com, with the help of the Media Mobilizing Project, a media organization dedicated to telling the stories of working people.
On the site, parents can use an online form to indicate which educational deficiencies they are experiencing and offer suggestions to resolve the problems.
Gym said that the state Department of Education has sent back responses to the filed complaints, but said that many were unsatisfactory. For example, Gym said that in response to complaints about inadequate funding of mentally gifted programs, the state Department of Education simply said that it is a matter to be handled at the District level.
“We’ve gone through all local routes,” Gym said. “I think that it’s clear that we have to challenge it.”
[Disclosure: Helen Gym blogs regularly for the Notebook.]