Juveniles regain right to school hearing

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Juvenile offenders returning to the Philadelphia school system from treatment or placement have been restored the right to a hearing where they can request a return to their home schools, according to a 3-2 ruling delivered by the state’s Commonwealth Court in July.

The decision overturned a provision in the three-year-old state statute known as Act 88, which had required all students coming out of juvenile placements to be assessed by a 10-day District-run transitional program, with certain groups of adjudicated delinquents automatically assigned to alternative, disciplinary schools after the transition program. The law applied only to Philadelphia School District students.

The Juvenile Law Center (JLC) and Education Law Center (ELC) filed the suit on behalf of three Philadelphia students who had been assigned to alternative schools without the opportunity for a hearing. Attorneys argued the students’ right to due process had been violated.

The court agreed, concluding the statute “establishes an absolute bar to consideration of a student’s fitness to return to a regular classroom.”

JLC Legal Director Marsha Levick called the decision “a win for all Philadelphia kids.”

She noted that while the court affirmed students’ right to a hearing, “The School District retains complete authority to assign any of these adjudicated students to alternative schools if their behavior warrants it.” The affected students will continue to be required to go through the transitional program.

Len Rieser, co-director of the Education Law Center, commented, “Philadelphia kids have a right to a fair hearing when they are accused of having done something wrong.”

Philadelphia Schools CEO Paul Vallas told reporters the District would not appeal the decision, and that he did not expect it to interfere with the District’s efforts to place disruptive students in alternative schools. He pointed to a report showing that youth who had completed the transitional program dropped out less frequently and had better attendance and less disruptive behavior than juveniles who returned to their regular classes.