Juvenile Law Center, with its co-counsel Education Law Center-PA, filed this civil rights class action lawsuit on behalf of school-age pre-trial and convicted offenders detained or incarcerated in Pennsylvania's 73 adult county prisons and jails to enforce their rights to basic and special education under state and federal law. At the time plaintiffs filed their initial complaint, state law afforded all resident children in Pennsylvania between the ages of six and 21, including school-aged youth housed or incarcerated in juvenile or adult correctional facilities, the right to a free public education.
Approximately six months after plaintiffs filed their complaint, the Pennsylvania General Assembly amended state law to radically limit the education rights of convicted school-aged offenders incarcerated in adult county jails. The new amendment required these youth to be treated as if they had been expelled from school, effectively barring them from receiving education. Juvenile Law Center amended their Complaint, challenging the state law as violative of the equal protection rights of these convicted youth sentenced to county jails.
Juvenile Law Center and the Pennsylvania Department of Education entered into a separate settlement agreement to resolve the claims of the incarcerated students with special education needs. Pursuant to this agreement, the State issued a policy bulletin outlining the educational obligations of school districts to pre-trial youth and youth eligible for special education. With respect to the rights of convicted school-age offenders to basic education within the county jails, the District rejected plaintiffs’ equal protection challenge. A divided panel of the Third Circuit affirmed.