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Dear Friends,

With your help and support, 2013 already promises to be a year of significant, positive results for our clients. As we report below, the lives of children with autism and families in the Lebanon School District will be improved because of legal successes in our cases; and voters will again be spared the need to show photo identification at the polls in May, as a result of an agreement by lawyers for the state officials in our challenge to that requirement.

As our nation faces bleak choices in the days after the sequester goes into effect, let us take a small measure of comfort that you and we can still find ways to make an impact!
Jennifer R. Clarke
Executive Director


Law Center & Dechert LLP Put a Stop to School District's "Autism Shuffle"


Four students, ages 8-9
Four plaintiff students, ages 8-9
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled on February 19th that the School District of Philadelphia's "upper leveling" process by which it transfers children with autism from school to school without adequate notice to or opportunity for input from parents violates the federal  Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). 
In its decision, the court stated that this process "...seriously deprives parents the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process regarding the educational placement of their autistic child." The court granted the Law Center and Dechert LLP's motion for summary judgment and ordered the District to alter its process to ensure that parents participate in and are adequately notified of any changes to their children's placement.
The Law Center's Director of Disability Rights, Sonja Kerr, commented: "This is a significant victory for the families of children with autism in Philadelphia who have, for too long, been subjected to the autism shuffle. Now, the District will have to plan so that parents of these children are equal participants at the table in planning for their children's' education. As the District is planning massive school closures, the decision is welcomed because it will help families in this transition. "
This lawsuit was the first high-impact case to come from the Law Center's Philadelphia Project - an innovative program aimed at securing systemic improvements to special education in Philadelphia by educating parents about their rights, representing families in administrative hearings, filing class action suits to address systemic issues, and coordinating efforts among a coalition of special education advocates.
We thank our partners at Dechert LLP for their phenomenal pro bono work to bring about this victory!


Settlement Reached in Lebanon School District Truancy Case
The Law Center has successfully concluded its lawsuit against the Lebanon 
Plaintiff Monique Groce (right), whose family received 30 fines
  School District on behalf of parents who were fined exorbitant truancy fees- sometimes totaling thousands of dollars per family. Fines of this size are not only illegal, but are ineffective in reducing truancy and burden low-income families.
On February 18th, we reached a Settlment Agreement whereby the District will create a Class Restitution Fund to repay the nearly 250 people who paid excessive fines - a total of $108,000. This is in addition to the $325,000 worth of unpaid fines already reduced.
"The community owes Bill Dumas, Letitia Fuentes Keith and the NAACP its thanks for saving parents from over $430,000 in illegal fines," the Law Center's Michael Churchill, attorney for the plaintiffs said. "It was their persistence which ended the harsh punitive truancy fines. The truancy fines last school year were less than half what they were three years earlier before the NAACP first raised this issue, and the number of citations filed by the District were down 20 percent. The District is still using truancy fines as a first resort rather than a last resort in dealing with truancy despite evidence that such tactics do not work, but the courts are starting to moderate that policy."
The next step in concluding the case will be a hearing in federal court to approve the settlement and then class members will have six months to submit claims. Payments will be made within 45 days after the claims period has ended.


 Voter ID: Preliminary Injunction Extended
Another victory in our ongoing fight against Pennsylvania's Voter ID law! On
Plaintiffs in the Voter ID case
February 14, the Commonwealth agreed to extend the preliminary injunction that was granted in October through the May 21, 2013 primary elections, thus ensuring that the tens or hundreds of thousands of people who do not have ID will be able to vote. In May, voters will thus be asked for - but not required to show - photo ID in order to vote.
We will return to court on July 15 for trial on a permanent injunction that, if granted, would put an end to the law for good. In a stipulation also filed on February 14th, plaintiffs and the Commonwealth requested that, should any other elections take place before the outcome of that trial is fully resolved, the court separately consider motions to further extend the injunction based on the record from the July 15 trial.
Read more about the Voter ID case.
Double Your Impact!
This year, through a program led by our Board of Directors, all new or increased contributions to the Law Center will be matched - dollar for dollar. Your gift will directly support the Law Center's high-impact legal strategies, which are making equality a reality for the most vulnerable populations in the region.
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Thank you for your support!
The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia is a registered charitable organization. A copy of the official registration may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll free within Pennsylvania 1.800.732.0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.