SEVEN PARENTS have accused the state Department of Education of failing to investigate poor conditions at Philadelphia public schools.
The claims are contained in a lawsuit filed yesterday by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia on behalf of the parents and the local organization Parents United for Public Education. The suit says that 825 complaints were submitted to the department last school year regarding inadequate conditions and that the state is required to probe each claim. Instead, it says, some parents received a form letter, and many got no response at all.
"PDE didn't do any sort of investigation," said Ben Geffen, a lawyer with the nonprofit law center. He said the one-page letter that some parents got from Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq essentially said that the complaints should be handled by the district, but he insisted that the law clearly obligates the state to investigate. "To the extent that PDE has made any response at all, it's been that, 'We're not going to do that type of investigation.' "
The complaints - involving schools across the city at every grade level - touched on a variety of issues, including overcrowded classrooms, a lack of course offerings, a shortage of guidance counselors, and unsanitary and insufficient restrooms. Complaints were submitted online or through paper filings.
Christianne Kapps, one of the parents named in the lawsuit, has a daughter attending the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, in South Philadelphia. She said she filed at least three complaints on separate issues, including the lack of physical-education classes at the school early in the year.
"You have to have four physical-education credits to graduate, so we were wondering how is she going to graduate if the class isn't offered," Kapps said. She said her daughter wants to attend college but is being inhibited by the lack of resources, for which she blames the state. "They're the ones who should be making sure our students are properly educated," she said.
A spokesman for the department did not respond to requests for comment.
District schools opened Monday and face even greater difficulty this year. There will be fewer school police and less maintenance to help address an $81 million deficit. Massive layoffs loom if state lawmakers don't approve a Philly cigarette tax.
Geffen urged parents to report any problems this year by using an electronic form on myphillyschools.com. The law center will track complaints.