The state Education Department has violated its legal obligation to investigate claims of "massive curriculum deficiencies" in city schools, a group of Philadelphia School District parents claimed in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The group, including seven district parents and the group Parents United for Public Education, filed the suit in Commonwealth Court.
A separate suit about education funding is forthcoming, said officials with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, which represents the parents in the suit filed Tuesday.
During the 2013-14 school year, parents filed 825 complaints with the Pennsylvania Department of Education on issues ranging from overcrowding to "squalid and insufficient toilet facilities." The problems all stem from district-level budget cuts made necessary by a lack of state funds, the parents said.
The complaints were met with either a form letter saying the matter was a local one or no response at all.
State law requires the Education Department to investigate allegations of curriculum deficiencies, said Ben Geffen, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia lawyer who represents the plaintiffs.
"They simply haven't done that," Geffen said. "We're asking the court to require them to do that. They can't simply ignore parents, and slough problems onto local school districts and wash their hands of them."
Last October, Maura Dwyer, mother of a student at Jackson Elementary School in South Philadelphia, filed a complaint over the large class sizes at Jackson.
At one point, there were 33 children in each of two first-grade classes, Dwyer said.
"It was overcrowded to the point where it was difficult to walk around the room," said Dwyer. "Teachers had to be creative just to fit desks in the room."
Dwyer is happy with the education her daughter receives at Jackson, a strong public school with many community partnerships and a thriving arts program.
"The teachers and the staff and the principal are all phenomenal," she said. "But I'm complaining that the school is being starved of resources."
This year, Dwyer said, class sizes are smaller, but the school lost vital bilingual counseling assistants, who provide assistance to the school's non-native English speakers. Jackson has a high percentage of English as a second language learners.
After she filed her complaint, she received a short letter stating that the state would not be investigating her complaint because it was a local matter, Dwyer said.
Tim Allen complained about problems at Bodine High School, his child's school - overcrowding, and a lack of foreign languages, a real problem, he said, at a school of international affairs.
Parent Christianne Kapps wrote of no physical education classes at the High School for Creative and Performing Arts.
Robin Roberts, whose children attend C.W. Henry Elementary, complained about a lack of functional bathrooms and a shortage of supplies - soap, toilet paper, towels. The bathrooms smelled foul, Roberts said.
"Because there are not enough staff people to provide coverage, children have to wait to go use the bathroom," Roberts wrote in a complaint filed with the state last November. "Many times they say they have to wait too long."
Parents United and the Public Interest Law Center both encouraged parents to file complaints if they saw deficiencies in their child's school last year. They have renewed that call for the current school year, Geffen said.
Some state senators this week encouraged the department to investigate the parents' claims. In a letter to acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq, State Sen. Vincent Hughes and others urged her to "act quickly" to look into the allegations of problems at schools.
Tim Eller, spokesman for the Education Department, said officials are reviewing the suit and would not comment on pending litigation.