Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Legislative Watch: Reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA)

(JJDPA) - 'The Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2009 is up to be reauthorized through FY2014; it is an Amendment to the same Act of 1974.

In Pennsylvania, Senator Arlen Specter is a co-sponsor of this Bill. Contact him and encourage him to stick with it. Take the time to learn more about juvenile justice and the Pipeline to Prison.

Here's what it does:

Requires the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Office) to include in the annual report of the Office information on juveniles held in state and local secure detention and correctional facilities, the treatment of status offenders (e.g., runaways, truants), and evidence based programs for juvenile delinquency prevention.

Expands requirements for state plans under the Act to require:

(1) statewide compliance with the core requirement of the Act for protection of incarcerated juveniles;

(2) alternatives to detention for juveniles who are status or first-time minor offenders;

(3) use of community-based services to address the needs of at-risk youth;

(4) programs to improve the recruitment, selection, training, and retention of professionals working in juvenile delinquency prevention programs; and

(5) the identification of racial and ethnic disparities among juveniles in the juvenile justice system.

Eliminates as a requirement under the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Block Grant Program evidence that Indian tribe grant applicants perform law enforcement functions.

Authorizes the Administrator to make incentive grants to state and local governments for juvenile delinquency prevention programs, including evidence based programs for the prevention and reduction of juvenile delinquency, personnel recruitment and training, and mental health and substance abuse screening and treatment. Includes mentoring programs as a permissible grant purpose under the Incentive Grant Program for Local Delinquency Prevention. Reauthorizes such grant program through FY2014.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

News Parents Can Use---America Goes Back to School: A National Town Hall Meeting with Arne Duncan - Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 8-9 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is traveling throughout the country to engage a broad group of stakeholders-including parents-in an open and honest conversation about federal education policy in anticipation of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Already, the secretary has met with hundreds of mothers and fathers, students, teachers, principals, education support staff, superintendents, college professors, higher education administrators, and community leaders during his national tour, "Listening and Learning: A Conversation About Education Reform."

The September edition of Education News parents will have a chance to offer the Secretary their suggestions and their hopes about reforming education in the United States in a public dialogue addressing topics of importance to schools, families, and communities.

Education News is a monthly television program that focuses on schools, learning and student success. On the third Tuesday of each month during the school year, Education News airs live via satellite, offering parents and anyone else with an interest in education vital information about getting involved in children's learning. To learn more about the broadcast and where to watch please visit: http://www.ed./ <> gov/news/av/ video/edtv/ index.html

Friday, September 4, 2009

PA Courts Deny African American Students Class Action Certification

In a Memorandum dated August 19, 2009, Chief Justice Harvey Bartle, of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, denied class certification to plaintiffs, including six African American students and their parents, the NAACP—Main Line Branch, and Concerned Black Parents. The case was filed on July 30, 2007 by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP) as a class action against the Lower Merion School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The lawsuit alleges persistent, routine, and system-wide racial segregation of African American students into below grade level or modified classes where they receive a substandard education.

Further, Chief Justice Bartle dismissed the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Concerned Black Parents and, presumably, the NAACP—Main Line Branch from the case all together. Concerned Black Parents and the NAACP are plaintiffs on behalf of all African American students who have experienced intentional and systematic racial discrimination within the Lower Merion School District. In an earlier memorandum, Chief Justice Bartle had dismissed all claims against the Lower Merion School Board members and claims for the Blunt family, the original plaintiffs in the case. Where there were no motions filed by the Lower Merion School District or the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Chief Justice Bartle treated their brief and assertions as legal motions, although none was officially submitted, and decided in their favor.

In stark contrast to Chief Justice Harvey Bartle’s decisions in favor of the Lower Merion School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, on June 2009 a decision was rendered by a Due Process Hearing officer in favor of one of the plaintiffs in the above referenced federal court case after extensive testimony by the defendants, the Lower Merion School District. Hearing Officer Dr. Valentini determined that, in fact, the Lower Merion School District denied its 17-year old African American high school student a free and appropriate education over a number of years; accordingly, the student was awarded a significant academic compensatory package for her loss of years of a meaningful education. This student received special education support services that were considered inferior by the hearing officer.

Unfortunately, many other plaintiffs, along with the denied “class,” in the federal case before Chief Justice Bartle are receiving an inferior education in a school district that is promoted and recognized as being one of Pennsylvania’s best public school systems. In support of class certification, the plaintiffs submitted a statistical analysis of the school district’s own data showing that African-American students are clustered in low track courses and denied placement in honors and advanced placement courses. The racial disparity is overwhelming and could not have occurred by chance. Data obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Education showed that African-American students are overrepresented in special education and, once identified as special education students, are significantly more likely than Caucasian special education students to be placed in separate special education classes. Yet the Court ignored this evidence of class-wide discrimination against African-American students.

The nearly eight year-old No Child Left Behind law seemingly has had little impact on the achievement gap between Lower Merion’s black students and their white peers as demonstrated by the approximate 30 point differences in reading and math PSSA scores; these figures get slightly better or tremendously worse or varied levels. At a recent school board meeting, the district’s superintendent announced that the district is experiencing the highest number of student enrollment in honors level courses in recent history. The class action lawsuit that was put before the federal court in 2007 by the aforementioned plaintiffs is a plea before the Court to order a reluctant and covertly racist school district administration and staff to finally enable African American students to gain access to the wealth of academic achievement denied to its minority students.

As Chief Justice Harvey Bartle renders his opposition to certifying the case as a class action, dismisses key defendants, whittles plaintiffs off the case, and decides on non-existent motions; Lower Merion’s African American community and its legal team at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia will continue to seek justice for its students by submitting an Appeal to the higher Court.