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Press Release

Pennsylvania Department Of Education Agrees To Resolve Federal Civil Rights Investigation Into Alternative Education Programs And Implement Reforms

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG - The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle, Eastern, and Western Districts of Pennsylvania announced that the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has agreed to resolve a federal civil rights investigation into Pennsylvania’s system of alternative education programs, known as Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth (AEDY).  Under Pennsylvania law, students in grades 6 through 12 can be referred to these programs for temporary placements when they meet certain statutory criteria.  These programs are separate from students’ usual general education programs, and do not typically offer the same access to the instructional programs or activities.

According to United States Attorney David J. Freed, the United States Department of Justice received complaints that AEDY programs discriminated against students based on disability and failed to provide appropriate services to students who are learning English.  In response, the Department of Justice partnered with United States Attorney’s Offices for the Middle, Eastern, and Western District of Pennsylvania to investigate PDE’s approval and oversight of these programs across Pennsylvania.

The investigation was conducted under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits state and local government entities, including schools, from discriminating based on disability.  In addition, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 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 its students in an instructional program.

Under the settlement agreement, PDE will ensure that students with disabilities receive individual assessments to determine whether their behavior results from a disability before they are placed in AEDY.  The agreement also requires PDE to monitor whether students with disabilities in AEDY programs are timely transferred back to their home schools, guarantee that local educational agencies attempt appropriate interventions before referring students with disabilities to AEDY, and ensure that students are not placed in AEDY solely on the basis of disability. 

In addition, the agreement will require Pennsylvania to ensure that local educational agencies establish a service plan for English learning (EL) students in AEDY to ensure that they receive appropriate language assistance services.  PDE will also improve its process for receiving and responding to complaints from parents or others regarding AEDY programs, and revise its non-discrimination policies and data monitoring practices to comply with the EEOA and the ADA.

“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.”

“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.”

This case was handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Michael J. Butler, MDPA, Michael S. Macko, EDPA, and Jennifer Andrade, WDPA, working jointly with the Department of Justice’s Education and Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division.

 

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Updated March 25, 2019