Articles Posted in Education Law

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Anthony Burke was a child diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder. Throughout the first six months of 2010, Anthony and his family were covered by a group health insurance policy (the “Policy”) with Appellant, Independence Blue Cross (“Insurer”), maintained through Anthony’s father, John Burke’s employer. Initially, Anthony received “applied behavioral analysis” (ABA) treatment at home. In August 2009, before an Autism Coverage Law became effective relative to the Burkes’ coverage, the family requested benefits, under the Policy, for ABA services to be provided at the parochial elementary school attended by Anthony. Insurer denied coverage on account of an express place-of-services exclusion in the Policy delineating that services would not be covered if the care was provided in certain locations, including schools. In a motion for judgment on the pleadings, Mr. Burke argued that the place-of-services exclusion in the Policy was nullified, as it pertained to in-school services, by the Autism Coverage Law. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the Pennsylvania Legislature intended to permit only general exclusions that would not substantially undermine the mandatory coverage requirement: “we simply do not believe that the Legislature intended to permit insurers to exclude coverage in the sensory-laden educational environment where children spend large portions of their days, or to require families to litigate the issue of medical necessity discretely in individual cases to secure such location-specific coverage for the treatment.” The Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of the Burkes, and that the Policy’s place-of-services exclusion was ineffective under the Autism Recovery Law. View "Burke v. Independence Blue Cross" on Justia Law

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Appellant-Petitioners in this case were school districts, individuals, and groups with an interest in the quality of public education in Pennsylvania. They contended that the General Assembly and other Respondents collectively failed to live up to the mandate to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.” They further alleged the hybrid state-local approach to school financing resulted in untenable funding and resource disparities between wealthier and poorer school districts. They claim that the General Assembly’s failure legislatively to ameliorate those disparities to a greater extent than it does constitutes a violation of the equal protection of law guaranteed by the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Commonwealth Court, sitting in its original jurisdiction, dismissed both claims at the pleading stage, relying on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s prior dispositions of similar cases. Arguably, these prior decisions held that such challenges were political questions that the courts could not adjudicate without infringing upon the constitutional separation of powers. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court, however, finding colorable Petitioners’ allegation that the General Assembly imposed a classification whereunder distribution of state funds results in widespread deprivations in economically disadvantaged districts of the resources necessary to attain a constitutionally adequate education. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court erred in determining that Petitioners’ equal protection claims are non-justiciable. “Whether Petitioners’ equal protection claims are viewed as intertwined with their Education Clause claims or assessed independently, those claims are not subject to judicial abstention under the political question doctrine. It remains for Petitioners to substantiate and elucidate the classification at issue and to establish the nature of the right to education, if any, to determine what standard of review the lower court must employ to evaluate their challenge. But Petitioners are entitled to the opportunity to do so.” View "William Penn Sch. Dist. et al, v. Dept of Educ." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review centered on whether, pursuant to section 8327(b)(2) of the Public School Employees’ Retirement Code, 24 Pa.C.S.A. 8327(b)(2), the school district that originally approved the creation of a charter school was financially responsible, after the revocation of the charter, for the charter school’s prior failure to make payments to its employees’ retirement fund. The Court surmised the question hinged upon whether unpaid retirement contributions constituted an outstanding obligation of the closed charter school. The Court concluded that the deficiency resulting from the failure to make the payments was indeed an outstanding financial obligation of a closed charter school and therefore, pursuant to section 17-1729-A(i) of the Charter School Law, 24 P.S. section 17-1729-A(i), the school district could not be held liable for the amounts owed. View "Pocono Mtn. Sch. Dist. v. Dept. of Educ." on Justia Law

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Responding to adverse financial conditions in the Philadelphia School District, the Pennsylvania Legislature amended the School Code in the late 1990s by adding provisions to the Distress Law tailored to school districts of the first class. In this matter, the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether legislation designed to help the Philadelphia School District recover from financial hardship violated the non-delegation rule. The Court held that Section 696(i)(3) of the School Code, 24 P.S. sec. 6-696(i)(3), was unconstitutional, violating the non-delegation rule of Article II, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Accordingly Respondents’ actions taken pursuant to that provision were null and void, and Respondents were permanently enjoined from taking further action under the authority it conferred. View "W. Phila A.C.E. Sch. v. S.D. of Phila." on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the issue presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the Transfer between Entities Act (a provision of the Public School Code designed to protect teachers affected by inter-school transfers of educational programs) applied where the transferred students were placed into pre-existing classes and no new classes added. The Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center, a public vocational technical school (the “Vocational School”), provided career and technical training to high school students from numerous sending school districts within Westmoreland County, including Appellee Penn-Trafford School District (“Penn-Trafford”). For a number of years, the Vocational School taught math to students from the high schools in such districts who were enrolled in career and technical programs at the Vocational School. During this time, the sending school districts were providing the same math instruction to students in their high schools who were not enrolled at the Vocational School. In early 2010, eight sending school districts, including Penn-Trafford, advised the Vocational School that, beginning with the 2010-11 school year, they would be providing math instruction to the vocational students at the students’ home high schools rather than sending them to the Vocational School for math. Due to these changes, the Vocational School curtailed its math offerings and suspended five certified math teachers. The Supreme Court concluded that the transfer of students and the assumption of program responsibility by the receiving entity were alone sufficient to implicate the protections conferred under the Act. The Commonwealth Court's order was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "CWC v. Penn-Trafford" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review to consider whether the Public School Code of 1949 mandated that a school district provide free transportation to a student from two different residences where the student’s parents share physical custody of the student and both parents reside within the school district. The Commonwealth Court held that the Manheim Township School District must provide transportation to both parents’ residences. After review, the Supreme Court agreed that the School District was required to provide free transportation to and from both parents’ residences in this case. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court. View "Watts v. Manheim Twp. School District" on Justia Law

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Appellees are former Community College of Beaver County students who, according to their allegations, enrolled in and completed substantial work in CCBC's police training program. Their academic progress was cut short when, in 2002, CCBC’s alleged malfeasance caused state officials to decertify the program, thereby rendering their educational and financial investments largely worthless. Appellees filed actions in the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County, asserting claims of breach of contract, breach of warranty, and a claim under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law 's (UTPCPL) provisions providing a private cause of action for "persons" injured by other "persons'" employment of unfair trade practices. In this appeal, the issue before the Supreme Court centered on whether the UTPCPL defined a "person" subject to liability as including both private entities and political subdivision agencies. After careful review, the Supreme Court held that the UTPCPL defined a "person" as including private entities, but not political subdivision agencies. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court's order affirming the trial court's denial of partial summary judgment on this issue and remanded to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings. View "Meyer v. Community College of Beaver County" on Justia Law

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This appeal centered on whether the Pennsylvania School Code's compulsory school age and attendance provisions applied to children under eight years old whose parents voluntarily enrolled them in public kindergarten programs made available by school districts. The trial court and Commonwealth Court both held that once a child who meets a district's minimum entrance age is enrolled in a district's public school kindergarten program, the child is subject to compulsory school attendance, meaning continuous and consistent attendance without excessive unexcused absences. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pennsylvania v. Kerstetter" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was the interpretation of the Commonwealth Charter School Law. Pursuant to the Charter School Law, the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School was awarded a charter for a five-year term ending June 30, 2005. In late 2004, the Charter School filed a renewal application. On March 16, 2005, the School Reform Commission of the School District of Philadelphia (“SRC”) adopted a resolution that granted, “upon signing a new Charter Agreement,” the Charter School’s request for renewal of the charter for a second five-year period commencing on September 1, 2005. The SRC denied the Charter School's request for expansion of enrollment, and granted approval "to enroll a maximum of six hundred and seventy five (675) students and serve grades kindergarten through 8." The SRC and the Charter School then entered into, as of September 1, 2005, a legally binding agreement that incorporated the SRC Resolution in its entirety and extended the charter for five years ("the 2005 Charter"). The 2005 Charter explicitly referenced and incorporated the SRC Resolution, one provision of which capped student enrollment, explicitly mandated that the Charter School comply with the SRC Resolution; and explicitly constituted a legally binding, mutual agreement of five years duration, the terms of which could not be changed absent a written agreement signed by both parties. The legally binding nature of the terms of the 2005 Charter was mandated by a provision of the Charter School Law. Notwithstanding the terms of the 2005 Charter, the Charter School consistently enrolled more than the 675 students permitted by that Charter. For the 2007-2008 school year, the Charter School’s average daily enrollment was approximately 729 students; for 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, the average daily enrollment was approximately 732 and 765 students, respectively. In each school year, the School District of Philadelphia provided funding for 675 students based on the 2005 Charter. In July 2010, asserting that it had been underpaid by the School District, the Charter School requested that the Pennsylvania Department of Education withhold $1,678,579 from the School District's basic education subsidy allocation as payment to the Charter School for the students it had educated in addition to the 675 students permitted by the enrollment cap for school years 2007-2008, 2008-2009, and 2009–2010. The School District objected to the withholding and a hearing was held before the Department. The Secretary of Education determined that the Charter School had agreed and legally assented to the enrollment cap when it signed the 2005 Charter, and therefore, the Charter School was not entitled to payment for students enrolled above that cap in the 2007-2008 school year. However, with regard to the school years 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, the Secretary determined that the enrollment cap set forth in the 2005 Charter was no longer valid because of the enactment of an amendment to the Charter School Law which had become effective on July 1, 2008 (24 P.S. section 17-1723-A(d)). Based on his interpretation, the Secretary concluded that, to maintain the 2005 Charter’s enrollment cap subsequent to the effective date of the amendment, the School District was required to re-obtain the Charter School’s “legal assent” to the cap. Ultimately, the Secretary determined that the Charter School was entitled to payment by the School District for the education of all the students enrolled in the school for the years 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, including those enrolled beyond the cap. The School District appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which affirmed. The School District appealed to the Supreme Court, which reversed: "based on the plain text of 24 P.S. section 17-1723-A(d), we conclude that an enrollment cap is valid if agreed to by the parties as part of a written charter." View "Sch. Dist. of Philadelphia v. Dept. of Education" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted review to determine whether a public school district was obligated to fund a kindergarten program offered by a cyber charter school for a four-year-old student when the district exercised its discretion not to offer such a program in its public schools. In 2006, the Secretary of Education notified Appellant Slippery Rock Area School District that funds had been deducted from the district's state subsidy and made payable to Appellee Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. The Secretary deducted funds because Slippery Rock failed to pay Cyber School for numerous students residing in the district who were attending Cyber School. Slippery Rock objected to the withholding of $1,716.63 for a four-year-old female student enrolled in Cyber School’s kindergarten program. Slippery Rock averred that while it operates a discretionary kindergarten program for five-year-old children, the student at issue did not meet the age requirements for admission into the district’s kindergarten program, Slippery Rock argued that it was not obligated to "assume the costs or obligation of this individual’s enrollment into [Cyber School]." The Secretary concluded that Slippery Rock could not deny payment to Cyber School simply because Slippery Rock did not have a four-year-old kindergarten program. Subsequently the Secretary granted Cyber School's motion to dismiss Slippery Rock's objection. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the Secretary, but the Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court and the Secretary: "[t]o hold that Slippery Rock is obligated to fund educational opportunities for students not yet eligible to attend the district’s public schools would allow those students who enroll in Cyber School to receive greater benefits than a similarly-situated student who chooses to attend the public school." View "Slippery Rock Area Sch. Dist. v. Pa. Cyber Charter Sch." on Justia Law