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Victory for PA Students with Disabilities, English Learners

In 2013, African-American students made up 15 percent of all students in Pennsylvania, but 35 percent of those in AEDY programs. (ludi/Pixabay)
In 2013, African-American students made up 15 percent of all students in Pennsylvania, but 35 percent of those in AEDY programs. (ludi/Pixabay)
March 28, 2019

HARRISBURG, Pa. – A settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and Pennsylvania's Department of Education will mean significant changes in the state's disciplinary education programs.

The Education Law Center filed a complaint in 2013 about what it alleged were discriminatory practices at more than 700 Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth, or AEDY, programs in the state.

At that time, more than half of the students in AEDY programs were students with disabilities, and 35 percent were African-American, compared to 16 and 15 percent of the state's student population, respectively.

While the settlement doesn't address the racial disparity, attorney Cheryl Kleiman at the Center calls it a major victory.

"This agreement represents a significant overhaul of the system of segregated and inferior education programs that have been a key component in Pennsylvania's 'school-to-prison pipeline,'" she states.

The agreement sets limits for how long students with disabilities can remain in AEDY programs and also requires translation, interpretation and English learner services.

But Kleiman says the failure of the settlement to address the disproportionately high percentage of African- American students being placed in AEDY programs is a glaring problem.

"Racial disparities existed at the time we filed our complaint and continue to exist today, even as the number of students in alternative education programs is declining," she stresses.

The agreement requires the state to collect data, analyze AEDY student outcomes and report the findings on an annual basis, but does not mention data on students' race.

Under the settlement, the Justice Department will continue to monitor and oversee the alternative education program for three years.

Kleiman adds the Education Law Center also will be involved going forward.

"We are going to continue to urge the Pennsylvania Department of Education and local school districts to proactively address race and gender disparities in their alternative education programs," she states.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA