Class action suit charges Philadelphia school district’s automatic transfer policy for students with autism is discriminatory
The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCP) has filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of four parents, says The Inquirer, claiming Philadelphia School District’s (PSD) Automatic Autism Transfer Policy, which mandates that students with autism move to another school at the end of third and fifth grades, violates state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on disability.
Autism-support classes are located in various schools throughout the city, requiring most students to be transferred every three years. Most schools that have an autism-support class have a K-2, 3-5, or 6-8 class, but not all three, according to Sonja Kerr, an attorney for the plaintiffs and director of the PILCP’s disabilities rights project.
PSD’s policy affects at least 3,000 students district-wide, according to Kerr. “We think it’s a widespread problem,” said Kerr. “We think it’s a long-standing problem.” Transitions are especially difficult for people with autism, and the automatic-transfer policy has been criticized by the Philadelphia Right to Education Local Task Force, a local authority charged with monitoring school districts’ compliance on special-education issues.
Two of the plaintiff parents won due-process hearings this year that found that the district had violated the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act by keeping their children out of their neighborhood schools and by allowing the children’s autism-support classrooms to become overcrowded. The hearing officer said, however, then that he did not have the authority to address the automatic-transfer policy.
In his ruling, Officer Brian Jason Ford said, “The district is encouraged to alter its procedures on a broader scope, if only to avoid a plethora of identical claims from similarly situated students.” The parents seek to have the transfer policy overturned so their children can attend support classes in their current school.
Source: The Inquirer, 6/21/11, By Kristen A. Graham
[Editor's Note: Check out PILCP's legal complaint at the first link below and its press release at the second link below. PILCP is requesting that the school district:
* Stop using the Automatic Autism Transfer Policy;
* Keep an updated list of autism support classrooms that is publicly available so parents can be well-informed about the different program sites; and
* Tell all parents of children with autism which schools have autism support classrooms as the child enters the District, and involve parents in the process of school selection.
Another area of increasing contention is the use of service dogs in schools by students with autism. In June 2011, a federal district court in California issued a preliminary injunction allowing a student with autism to be accompanied by his service dog at school. The court concluded that the student had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of his Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim that the dog is a service dog under the ADA and the school district failed to demonstrate that its educational program would be fundamentally altered if the dog is allowed to accompany him to school. A summary of the opinion is available at the third link below.]