Resolution of Lawsuit will Improve Educational Opportunities for Abused, Neglected and At-Risk Youth
On the same day that the Governor’s Task Force on Child Protection released its recommendations in response to the Sandusky scandal, abused and neglected children right here in Allegheny County benefitted from the settlement of a lawsuit ending educational discrimination against children living in one of our county’s largest group homes. Yesterday the remaining details were finalized by the McKeesport School District in settling a class action lawsuit brought by KidsVoice to enforce the educational rights of our clients and other abused, neglected and at-risk children living in the Auberle group home in McKeesport.
KidsVoice filed the lawsuit jointly with the Education Law Center because children from Auberle were not allowed to attend the McKeesport Area Schools. Instead they were segregated in a separate building where 7th- 12th grade children from Auberle were educated together in the same classrooms, despite various ages and grade levels, and were not afforded the same opportunities, resources and extracurricular activities as other McKeesport students. The Auberle children did not receive textbooks, only worksheets, had almost no computer access, and were not provided access to the library, AP courses or science labs.
Within 60 days of filing the lawsuit, the District agreed to discontinue segregating the children and worked to develop new policies and procedures to guarantee the educational rights and meet the needs of the Auberle students.
Scott Hollander, KidsVoice Executive Director, pointed to the progress that children residing at Auberle already are making because of the District’s changes. “McKeesport deserves credit for closing the separate classrooms and implementing procedures and policies which are a model for other school districts to follow for how to successfully enroll, support and educate children in foster and group homes. One of the greatest outcomes of this case is that once the Auberle students attended the regular classrooms, more than 30% of the students residing at Auberle made the honor roll, which is higher than the overall district percentage.”
One of our clients, Jeffrey,* was an honor student at Pine-Richland High School until his father passed away and his mother struggled with addiction. When he enrolled in the McKeesport School District, he no longer had access to the types of course work and teaching he previously had and instead had to bide his time in a segregated classroom without advancing his education or being challenged academically. As he said, the biggest difference was that in his old school, “the students wanted to learn and the teachers wanted to teach.”
Some of the Auberle children were deprived of their education for more than two years. While they cannot get that back, the settlement approved by Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick provides for compensatory educational services and funding for tutoring, educational software, post-secondary education and job training, and compensatory educational services for children with disabilities.
Sadly, this continues to be a problem in other districts where children in foster and group homes are discriminated against in violation of federal and state law. KidsVoice, along with K&L Gates and the Education Law Center is in the midst of negotiating what hopefully will resolve similar issue in one of those other districts.
*The child’s name has been changed to protect his identity and maintain client confidentiality. KidsVoice does not disclose the names of clients.