Jon Campisi Jun. 8, 2012, 7:09am

A number of parents and a healthcare workers’ union have filed a federal lawsuit against the School District of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Department of Education seeking to prevent a neighborhood elementary school in North Philadelphia from being shuttered as part of a widespread school-closing plan.

Philadelphia attorney Susan A. Murray, of the firm Freedman and Lorry P.C., filed the lawsuit June 5 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The plaintiffs in the case are a group of parents whose children attend Harrison Elementary School and District 1199C of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees.

Many of the parent plaintiffs are union members.

The lawsuit seeks to have a plan to close Harrison derailed by a preliminary court injunction.

The complaint claims that an overabundance of private-public charter schools in various sections of the city, including the area where Harrison is located, has hurt traditional public schooling, with much funding going toward the operation of the charters while leaving traditional public schools in the dark.

“The ultimate blow for those in traditional public schools are the closing of neighborhood schools and the burden, especially in poor, more crime infested areas, is a longer, more dangerous commute to another school that is also underperforming,” the lawsuit states. “The schools of eastern North Philadelphia are unduly impacted by implementation of this policy.”

The policy the lawsuit refers to is the school district’s plan known as the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact, which involves the transformation, turning around or closing of certain schools designated as low performing.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that students with special needs will be particularly adversely affected, since the schools their children would be transferred to if Harrison closes do not contain the same accommodations as their neighborhood school.

The suit states that Harrison contains an updated library and a computer lab that is not available at the Ludlow School or Spring Garden School, which are the two institutions the students would be transferred to if Harrison closes.

The lawsuit blames the opening of new charter schools in the neighborhood for the fact that Harrison has been designated an “underperforming” school, with the claim that funding has been diverted, and resources siphoned from, traditional public schools like Harrison.

The underperforming designation, in turn, is justification for Harrison’s planned closure, the suit alleges.

“Instead of addressing the factors that made it an underperforming school, Defendants close the school and shuffle the special needs and economically disadvantaged students to schools further away,” the lawsuit states.

The problems don’t stop with neighborhood elementary schools, the suit states; high schools across the city are slated for closure under similar justification.

The defendants are accused of violating the Equal Protection and Substantive Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution, the Pennsylvania Constitution, and the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. Additional civil rights violations are also alleged.

The lawsuit seeks to have a court enjoin the defendants from proceeding with Harrison’s planned closing until an independent entity performs an analysis of the districtwide school-closing plan.

The plaintiffs also seek attorney’s fees and other court relief.


The federal case number is 2:12-cv-03182-NS.


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