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Parents, students filed 260 complaints this week with state regarding district schools

A 16-year-old Vietnamese girl immigrated to Philadelphia a year ago and entered the ninth grade, "excited about getting a good education."

A 16-YEAR-OLD Vietnamese girl immigrated to Philadelphia a year ago and entered the ninth grade, "excited about getting a good education."

This year, added Ming Nguyen, coordinator for the Asian Youth Empowerment Program, that enthusiasm is lost.

Her unidentified school has placed her in 12th grade and now she must plan her exit from school earlier than expected, Nguyen said. A tough task when there are no language-support services that she can access and only one bilingual counselor who must split time among four schools, he said.

"She has totally been disadvantaged and disenfranchised by the system," he said.

At a City Hall news conference yesterday, Nguyen, other education leaders and City Council members Bill Green and Maria Quinones-Sanchez ticked off a number of complaints they said violate state law.

On Wednesday, students and families filed 260 complaints through the mail with the state, said public-schools advocate Helen Gym. Another 130 grievances are expected to be sent by the weekend.

The group also introduced a website,, designed by the Media Mobilizing Project for parents, staff and concerned citizens. Grievances can be sent from the site to Acting Secretary of Education Caroline Dumaresq while copies are directed to the Public Interest Law Center, which is tracking them.

Under state code, the education secretary must investigate each complaint and fix any problems found.

Sonja Kerr, a senior attorney at the Public Interest Law Center, one of the organizations involved with the effort, said she wants to hold Pennsylvania accountable for the condition of district schools.

The group "wants to make sure no politicians in Harrisburg can say, 'Oh, we didn't know, we didn't know how severe the impact was,' " Kerr said.

The lack of resources at the schools is taking its toll on education, said Tonayia Coffer, a parent representative at Fox Chase Elementary School.

"Our classrooms are no longer centers of learning. They are just classrooms with too many distractions," Coffer said.

The complaints aired by the group include: overcrowded classrooms, closed libraries, limited access to nurses and lack of counselors. Those filed with the state include:

*  A third-grade student who became homeless. The school the student attends lacks a full-time guidance counselor who would offer required services and support as mandated under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act, a federal law.

*  Elimination of gifted-support programs for students with Gifted Individualized Educational Programs. "That is completely illegal," Kerr said.

School district spokesman Fernando Gallard said the complaints have not been shared with the district. "We want to help parents," he said. "We want to hear straight from them and act upon whatever the findings are."

When told of Gallard's comments, Gym said: "We have exhausted the SRC [School Reform Commission]. They absolutely know about this. None of this is a surprise."