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Educational Tracking of Students Case Takes Shape in Pennsylvania

When it comes to the needs of children, family law attorneys in Pasadena take interest. No parent likes to have his or her child improperly tracked into lower-performing programs. In Pennsylvania, a district judge has set a trial date for a lawsuit alleging that special education and lower-level academic classes were being disproportionately filled with black students who had been subjected to improper tracking.

Initially, parents filed a class-action lawsuit, arguing on behalf of all black students in Lower Merion School District. However, in a 2009 ruling, Judge Harvey Bartle ruled that a class-action suit was not appropriate due to each case being too individualized.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which Congress reauthorized in 2004, requires districts to report on whether their special education placements show a disproportionate representation of minorities. Lower Merion's black student population is at about eight percent, whereas special education students in the district are represented at fourteen percent. Although Lower Merion's report to the state includes this fact, it found itself to be within racial disproportionality rules, noting that the disproportion of black students in special education was a result of inappropriate identification of disabilities. In other words, according to the district, it was not a matter of racial or ethnic tracking but misplacement of students in special education programs.

Both the district and lawyers representing the students continue to make their case. The district claims that the plaintiffs are not taking into account their attempts to close the minority achievement gap.

On behalf of the students, Sandra Kerr from the Disability Rights Project said, "We know that within the (school district), there are individuals who care and who want this situation solved. But the (school district) board needs to decisively act to solve this problem."

"The district has acknowledged, through its strategic plan, historical concerns surrounding minority achievement," the district's statement said. "In response, the district has aggressively sought to take a leadership role in the effort to address minority achievement in the areas of educational programming, hiring, community engagement and staff development."

The court has set a date of Nov. 1 for the trial.

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