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Monday, March 25, 2019

Pennsylvania Department of Education Agrees to Resolve Federal Civil Rights Investigation into Complaints About Alternative Education Programs

The Department of Justice Concludes Investigation into Pennsylvania Alternative Education Programs

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Offices for the Western, Middle, and Eastern Districts of Pennsylvania today announced a settlement agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to resolve a federal civil rights investigation into complaints about PDE’s statewide system of alternative education programs, known as Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth (AEDY).

"All students should be provided an opportunity to succeed and are entitled to learn in an educational environment free from discrimination,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “We commend PDE’s cooperation throughout our investigation and for its commitment to ensure that students with disabilities and English learners are not prevented from learning opportunities afforded to other students. All students should receive the lawfully-required help they need to participate equally in schools.”

“Pennsylvania must ensure that children with disabilities are not placed in an alternative disciplinary program simply because they have a disability,” said United States Attorney Freed.  “We applaud the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for implementing numerous changes to its AEDY Programs already, which, coupled with this agreement, will improve the education of children with disabilities and give all children the opportunity to learn English in AEDY Programs.” 

“Federal law does not allow schools to discipline students because of their disability, or to deprive them of an opportunity to learn English,” said United States Attorney William M. McSwain when announcing the resolution for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “This agreement protects their civil rights, and comes with laudable cooperation by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

The investigation was conducted under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits state and local government entities, including public schools, from discriminating based on disability. In addition, the Justice Department investigated under the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, which prohibits a state from denying equal educational opportunity based on national origin by failing to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by students in an instructional program.

Under the settlement agreement, PDE will monitor the AEDY system to ensure that students are not placed in AEDY in a manner that discriminates based on disability; that they are not denied equal educational opportunities; and that students with disabilities are transferred back to their home schools in a timely manner. In addition, the agreement will require Pennsylvania to ensure that local educational agencies provide appropriate language assistance services to English Learner (EL) students.  The United States will monitor compliance with the terms of the agreement.

Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.

Updated March 28, 2019