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Pa. Group Alleges Discrimination in Alternative-School Placements

The Pennsylvania-based Education Law Center filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice today, saying that young people with disabilities and black students are being placed in alternative schools far out of proportion to their represenation in the school population.

The complaint focuses on the state's Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth programs, which the legal advocacy group call "educationally inferior."

The complaint includes information gathered from analyzing four years of student placement data. In a statement, the law center said:

  • In public schools in Pennsylvania as a whole, 16 percent of students are identified as students with disabilities. However, in recent years, even as the total number of alternative placements has dropped, the percentage of students with disabilities sent to alternative education programs has increased to 44 percent.
  • In 82 school districts in 2010-11, more than 50 percent of the students sent to alternative education programs were students with disabilities.
  • African-American students comprise only 15 percent of Pennsylvania public school students, but in 2010-11 they comprised 35 percent of the students placed into alternative education programs.
  • In 45 school districts in 2010-11, there was a disparity of 20 percentage points or more between the percent of African-Americans in the district and the percent of African-Americans placed in the districts' alternative education programs.
  • Twenty-four districts had placement disparities of 20 percentage points or higher for both African-American students and students with disabilities.

Those disparities represent a violation both of students' rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act, said the organization, which has offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. It wants the Justice Department to investigate the charges and to compel the state to overhaul its monitoring of alternative education programs.

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