New documents detailing a federal lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District are now available for public viewing.
On January 30, 2007, eight African American families filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District.
The lawsuit claims that Lower Merion systematically discriminated against several African American students by placing them in special education programs and the lowest level classes.
Among the plaintiffs’ claims was the allegation that the district incorrectly concluded that the students had learning disabilities without conducting a standard classroom observation.
The plaintiffs also claim that Lower Merion officials admitted that one of the students didn’t need special education support and that they misidentified her as being learning disabled even though she had the ability to handle honors classes.
The plaintiffs also documented the history of the district’s alleged discrimination against African American students outside of the alleged incidents involving the plaintiffs.
The new documents were filed last Friday by the counsel for the plaintiffs, law firm DLA Piper and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.
The documents serve as a response to the school district's earlier motion for summary judgment.
Documents from the Plaintiffs:
- Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment
- Statement of Material Facts in Support of Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment
A Judge denied the plaintiffs request for a class action lawsuit in 2009 though the case proceeded on behalf of the families who filed, according to the Ardmore Patch.
NBC Philly contacted Lower Merion School District Information Director Doug Young who responded to the allegations with the following:
This lawsuit is from 2007 and only involves the named plaintiffs. The court denied class action status to this case several years ago. In the ensuing years, the plaintiffs’ claims were substantially limited and all individual administrators were dismissed from the case. The District has now asked to have the entire case dismissed. The District filed its Motion for Summary Judgment under seal last month pursuant to court order out of respect for the privacy of the students involved. The families of those students have now decided to waive their privacy rights and make their response public; therefore, the District is making its brief public solely for the purpose of responding to the now-public and inflammatory response of the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs’ claims relate to specific, individual special education disputes from years ago. The assertion that they are somehow connected to biased treatment on the basis of race is totally without merit. Additionally, the suit completely ignores and even diminishes the success of African American students in Lower Merion School District.
Here are the facts:
- LMSD PSSA scores for African American students exceed state averages at all levels
- LMSD has made adequate yearly progress in every one of our schools for all students, including African American students
- PSSA math and reading scores for African American students in LMSD are at all-time highs
- LMSD African American graduates are attending college at nearly twice the national rate (83% in 2011)
- The LMSD graduation rate for African American students is more than 95%, which greatly exceeds the national average for African American students (55%) and exceeds the national average for white students (78%)
- Enrollment of LMSD African American students in honors and AP courses has improved dramatically, with levels now approaching white peers
By any measure, LMSD is an exemplary District in supporting the achievement of all students. The District should be receiving awards for these efforts, not lawsuits.
Addressing the achievement gap and ensuring the achievement of all students is a top District priority and a specific goal in our strategic plan. We are proud of the progress made to date and proud of our leadership role in the effort to address minority achievement through educational programming, hiring, community engagement and staff development. We recognize that this is a complex, national issue with unique and varied challenges. Like our neighbors, we continue to strive for improvement every day.
It should also be noted that we take great pride in our reputation for providing top-notch special education services. Families regularly move into the District to receive these services. Federal and state law requires us to provide special education services and assessments are based on specific criteria and evaluation methods. We utilize multiple criteria and methods to eliminate any potential for cultural biases. Special education is not “a place,” it is an array of services provided to support student success. The learning environment in LMSD is considered by the PA Department of Education to be highly inclusive for students with special needs.
Documents from the Defendant:
The trial date is set for November 1.