September 9, 2014, Philadelphia parents and the advocacy organization Parents
United for Public Education filed "Allen
v. Dumaresq", asking the Commonwealth Court to order Pennsylvania's Education Secretary to do what the law requires:
investigate hundreds of parent complaints of massive deficiencies in city schools.
The State has governed Philadelphia public schools since 2001. Due to large, year-after-year shortfalls in state aid, Philadelphia schools have to operate under what district officials describe as a "Doomsday Budget."
Almost a year ago, Parents United and other organizations launched an online portal and a process for paper filings through which Philadelphia parents submitted over 825 complaints, documenting dire school conditions, to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). Although the PDE is required to investigate these complaints, the vast majority of parents received only a generic form letter or no response at all.
Problems alleged by parents include alarming levels of overcrowding such that teachers can no longer walk between desks to interact with individual students, increasingly limited curricular offerings, a distressing and dangerous lack of counselors and school nurses, and squalid and insufficient toilet facilities.
Tim Allen, the first named plaintiff in the lawsuit, hopes the court will force the PDE to investigate the crisis conditions found in schools like his son's, the William Bodine High School for International Affairs.
"I want my son, and all kids in the city of Philadelphia, to have equal access to a really good education that they can use to get into college," Allen said. "Teachers and counselors are trying their hardest with the limited resources they have, but if the state will not investigate what is going on in city schools, Philadelphia's kids will continue to suffer."
"The breadth of complaints we've received prove that the state must investigate the quality of education in the School District of Philadelphia," said Helen Gym of Parents United. "It is simply unacceptable for the state to ignore the claims of hundreds of parents representing 40 percent of District schools. We encourage parents to continue to make their voices heard and document issues in schools by submitting complaints through www.myphillyschools.com."
"The State must be held accountable for its failure to address these allegations," said Ben Geffen, Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP) staff attorney and counsel for the plaintiffs. "Secretary Dumaresq must know that responding to parents' pleas with form letters and silence not only violates the trust of parents, but is also a clear violation of her department's legal duties."