Philadelphia School District- no more quick transfers of autistic students allowed

Philadelphia School District – parents of children with autism are celebrating a victory this week the NewsWorks website reports.

The United States Federal District Court Judge Legrome Davis has ruled that the school district is no longer allowed to transfer students with autism to new elementary or middle schools without the parents having an opportunity to discuss the decision.

Transfers are often necessary because some schools do not have classrooms and teachers designated to providing autistic support for every grade level. If this happens then the district at present implements an “automatic autism transfer policy” therefore moving students to another public school that can serve the students’ needs.

However according to a class-action lawsuit filed in 2011the district has been acting with little to no input from parents and often at the last minute.

Sonja Kerr, special-education attorney with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia told that one of her little clients thought he had been expelled.

“A teacher sent home a note saying, ‘I just found out you’re not coming to school next year,’ and the little boy didn’t understand and cried for a week,” .

The law center and Dechert LLP filed the suit against the district on behalf of 1,600 students with autism.District administrators have agreed to cooperate with the preliminary settlement ruling and a follow-up hearing is scheduled for June 3.

Sonja Kerr said:

“What this sets in place is a process to ensure that parents know more formally, as quickly as possible, that their child may be moved,”

Philadelphia public schools will now have to inform parents by January if they believe that a child needs to be moved in the fall.

The district must make the transfer of these children official and also inform parents of their right to request a hearing if they think a certain placement is inappropriate by June 1st of each year.

Cathy Rocca-Meier, former chairperson of the special-education-law-mandated Philadelphia Right to Education Taskforce and mother to an 11th grader with autism has been pushing for special-education policy reforms for the past ten years and led the charge for the lawsuit.

She said:

“In the past, [parents and students] weren’t informed until the first day of school,” “They often found out from the bus drivers.”

The original story on the NewsWorks website by Kevin McCorry can be found here