Philly groups file blanket complaint on counselor shortage

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

Parents United for Public Education and Philly School Counselors United filed a complaint with the Department of Education Thursday saying that Philadelphia chidlren are being denied an adequate education due to the counselor shortage in city schools.

"The lack of counselors impedes the ability of teachers to deliver as effectively instructional services," according to the complaint, filed with the help of the Public Interest Law Center of Pennsylvania (PILCOP).

The complaint recounts instances from several schools in which students did not receive counseling services, emphasizing the insufficient help in applying to high schools and college.

"The lack of counselors has produced a crisis for parents of students facing a transition year which is widespread and pressing," the complaint says. "Deadlines are approaching or have passed — parents who know about them have asked for assistance to no avail. Many are frightened and feeling desperate."

It also detailed incidents in which students needed emotional help and it wasn’t available, including for two students who returned to school after losing their mothers, one who is homeless, and another who needed help to cope with bullying.

In addition, a staffer filed a complaint from E.W. Rhodes, which received students from five other schools that were closed in June. Not all their records came with them; the counselor would normally handle that.

Among the nearly 4,000 employees originally laid off to help the District close its budget gap were all 292 counselors. Superintendent William Hite later restored 126 of them, but only schools with a population of more than 600 got a full-time counselor. More than 100 schools have been sharing 16 "itinerant" counselors that travel from school to school.

This week Hite said he would recall 80 more counselors now that the state has released $45 million. But this will still not put a full-time counselor in every school, although Hite said that every high school, regardless of size, would have one. Parents United has also led a campaign for parents and school staff to file complaints with the state detailing lack of services in city schools. So far, more than 700 have been filed.

At Thursday night’s School Reform Commission meeting, several parents pleaded for more counselors at their children’s schools.