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Law Center News: September 2014
Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia  
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Amy Laura Cahn speaks at a Philly Complaints press conference
Education Update: Philly Complaints Project
The Law Center is representing seven Philadelphia School District parents and Parents United for Public Education in a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) for violating its legal obligation to investigate allegations of massive curriculum deficiencies in Philadelphia public schools. In September 2013, the Law Center and partners launched, a portal through which parents submitted 825 complaints over the course of the school year. PDE, is required to investigate these formal complaints. But after one year, the vast majority of parents have received only a generic form letter or no response at all. Please use if you are aware of an education deficiency in the School District of Philadelphia. (Please note that this case is distinct from the Law Center's statewide lawsuit regarding education funding, which is forthcoming.)

Law Center Event: Health Issues in Schools 
"Mom, I can't find the nurse!" Philadelphia has one of the worst childhood asthma rates in the country. We need more nurses in Philadelphia's schools to aid children suffering from this and other health issues. Join us on October 21 at 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway from 1-4 P.M. to discuss Pennsylvania laws governing nursing services. Click here to purchase tickets.

The Back to School Special Education Boot Camp has been rescheduled for October 20 from 8:30 A.M.-3:00 P.M. You can purchase tickets for this event here.
Phil Wilson
Board Member Spotlight: 
Phil Wilson, Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller

Phil Wilson is a shareholder at Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller where he represents corporate clients and individuals in business litigation and has more than a decade of experience representing some of the country's leading insurance companies in his insurance coverage practice. He and his firm were a massive help to the Law Center recently, offering us the use of office space when an issue caused our building to be closed for three days.


About joining the board, he said, "I can't say I dreamed about joining PILCOP's Board as a kid, but after my first experience with PILCOP working with Michael Churchill on the Lower Oxford/Lincoln University voting rights case, I knew I wanted to do more with these people on this mission. Now, having spent a few months 'behind the curtain,' I am even more impressed with the passion, commitment and vision that animates this organization, and am honored to be a part of it."

PA State Capitol
Healthcare Update:
 Medicaid Expansion

On August 28th the federal and state governments reached an agreement on a plan to expand Medicaid coverage to 600,000 Pennsylvanians. Expansion of Medicaid is a core component of the Affordable Care Act, and as of January 1, 2015, Pennsylvania will join the majority of states in accepting federal funds to enroll previously uninsured Americans. The approved plan still falls short of full Medicaid expansion. Nonetheless, we are pleased that health coverage is coming to many of Pennsylvania's working families. 

Danielle Karcich
Pro Bono Spotlight:
Danielle Karcich, McCarter & English, LLP

Danielle Karcich is an associate at McCarter & English, LLP who is working with the Law Center on a special education case in which we are trying to prevent school districts from gaining a potent advantage over parents by forcing them into litigation even if they don't have the desire or means to do so. Speaking about her time working with the Law Center, she said, ""Both my college and my law school placed a big emphasis on serving the underprivileged, lessons that have stayed with me throughout my legal career. Fortunately my law firm, McCarter & English, places great value and importance on doing pro bono legal work and is very supportive of the attorneys who take on such projects. I have enjoyed working with PILCOP because I have been able to work with some terrific attorneys to provide legal assistance to those who would not otherwise be able to afford it, while at the same time gaining valuable courtroom experience."
David Smith and Abbi Cohen
Law Center Update: Board of Directors Elects Two

The Board of Directors elected two new members in September from Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP and Dechert LLP, respectively.


David Smith rejoins the Board of Directors after a three year hiatus. Mr. Smith is a partner and chairman of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP,  and has more than 30 years of experience handling large and complex litigation, including representation of plaintiffs and defendants in a broad variety of commercial disputes; class action litigation arising out of financial transactions; litigation over control of corporations and partnerships; and patent, trademark, trade secret and other intellectual property litigation.


Abbi Cohen, partner at Dechert LLP, is a new Law Center member. She has been recognized as a leading environmental lawyer by Chambers USA for 12 consecutive years, and focuses her practice on evaluating environmental liabilities associated with corporate, real estate, and financing transactions-including with respect to energy-and providing both state and federal permitting and regulatory compliance advice.


The Law Center is thrilled to have these new members on board. Click here for more information on our Board of Directors.

Amy Laura
Amy Laura Cahn
Law Center Update:
Amy Laura Cahn Receives Award
Amy Laura Cahn, the Law Center's director of the Garden Justice Legal Initiative, was honored with HIAS Pennsylvania's Community Service Award this month. She is receiving the award for her work with the HIAS Refugee Resettlement Program. Recently she advised HIAS and their Butanese clients on how to obtain land for gardening in Northeast Philadelphia. She connected HIAS to Partners for Sacred Places, which helped them negotiate with a faith-based partner to secure a parcel of vacant land. There are seven refugee families gardening on the newly secured land to start.

A group from HIAS and Bhutanese farmers on the obtained land
Special Education Update: Disproportionality
Nationwide, a disproportionate number of minority students are identified for special education. Federal special education law recognizes that problem and imposes certain obligations on the state and school district if a school district has "significant disproportionality." The problem is that federal law gives wide leeway to states as to how to define the ratios of disproportionality. The US Department of Education realizes that this is an issue and asked for comments in July. Law Center staff attorney Sonja Kerr submitted comments on behalf of the Law Center, along with hundreds of other organizations and individuals around the country. The Law Center has worked on this issue in a lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District in which families alleged that school officials knew about and failed to address the persistent, disproportionate identification of African-American students for special education. The Third Circuit recently affirmed the dismissal of the case for failure to show intentional discrimination, with a powerful dissent by Judge McKee. We recently asked the court to rehear the case en banc
Monday, October 20, 2014, 8:30 A.M.-3:00 P.M.
1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Tuesday, October 21, 2014, 1:00-4:00 P.M.
1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Tuesday, October 14, 2014, 6:00-8:30 P.M.
The Center for Architecture, 1218 Arch Street
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