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Case Name Gaskin et al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ED-PA-0005
Docket / Court 2:94-cv-04048-ER ( E.D. Pa. )
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Education
Case Summary
The Public Interest Law Center filed this lawsuit on June 30, 1994 on behalf of a class of 280,000 special education students, 12 named plaintiffs, and 11 disabilities advocacy organizations against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ... read more >
The Public Interest Law Center filed this lawsuit on June 30, 1994 on behalf of a class of 280,000 special education students, 12 named plaintiffs, and 11 disabilities advocacy organizations against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs alleged that the Pennsylvania Department of Education violated the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The plaintiffs claimed that all school-age students with disabilities in Pennsylvania had been denied a free appropriate education in regular education classrooms with individual supportive services, and had been placed in regular education classrooms without the supportive services, individualized instruction, and accommodations they need to succeed in the regular education classroom.

Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed defendants failed to identify disabled students, develop individual educational programs or plans, and provide a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment to the maximum extent reasonably possible. Also, the plaintiffs claimed that defendants excluded disabled students solely because of their disability from participating in or from receiving the benefits of any program that received federal funding.

The plaintiffs sought to increase the number of children with disabilities educated with their non-disabled peers, and to make sure schools provided real supports to make sure inclusion would work as required by the IDEA. The lawsuit sought to change Pennsylvania’s systems for training districts in inclusion and for monitoring and enforcing inclusion compliance.

On August 29, 1994, the plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification, and the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. On March 8, 1995, the plaintiff filed a motion for preliminary injunction. No further information about the requested injunction is available, but on April 7, 1995, the court (Judge Eduardo Robreno) denied the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction as moot. On March 31, 1995, the court denied the defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint.

The court also granted Pennsylvania State education Association and The Educational Support Personnel Association's motion to intervene. On June 12, 1995, the court granted the plaintiff's motion for class certification.

The parties continued to engage in extensive discovery, providing multiple case management plans extending the discovery period. The discovery led to the production of thousands of documents, taking of dozens of depositions, and exchanging of eighteen expert reports. The discovery encompassed the inclusion practices of every public school in the state.

On June 2, 1999, the plaintiffs deposed special education and general education teachers, and completed surveys of ten sample school districts. With help from experts, the plaintiffs conducted a scientific survey of ten school districts to determine what services actually were being provided to special education students; reviewed selected IEPs in those districts to see if the resources and services were actually delivered; and interviewed teachers and administrators to determine the basis of their placement decisions. The plaintiffs also reviewed the state’s compliance and monitoring systems, as well as statistics concerning placements in all state districts.

The parties continued up to filing a thirteenth amended joint case management plan on October 3, 2001. On July 22, 2012, following a discovery dispute, the Court appointed Judge Louis Bechtle, former Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, as Discovery Master in the case. With Judge Bechtle’s guidance, the parties completed discovery on May 30, 2003.

Thereafter, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, along with responses and replies. On March 24, 2004, the Court heard oral argument on the summary judgment motions. After the oral argument, at the Court’s suggestion, on September 9, 2004, the parties agreed to participate in court-supervised mediation regarding settlement, with Judge Bechtle serving as a mediator.

On December 21, 2004, the parties filed a joint motion for approval of settlement agreement, memorandum, proposed order, and proposed settlement agreement. A hearing was held to consider provisional approval of the settlement agreement on April 20, 2005. At the Fairness Hearing, which was held on June 24, 2005, the court heard oral argument from the parties and other interested persons and received testimony from a special-education expert, Commonwealth officials, parents of several named plaintiffs, and certain representatives from advocacy groups. The parties submitted additional evidence through declarations and reports. The court ordered the parties to file a joint motion for final approval of the proposed settlement agreement. The joint motion was filed on August 5, 2005.

On September 19, 2005, the court granted the motion for final approval of the Settlement Agreement, ending 11 years of litigation regarding the education of students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment with supplementary aids and services in their neighborhood schools. Despite receiving several objections to the settlement agreement, the Court found the settlement agreement to be fair, reasonable, and adequate.

On October 28, 2005, one of the pro se beneficiaries of the settlement filed an appeal to the Court of Appeals, but on August 18, 2005, the appeal was dismissed.

The settlement agreement required an overhaul of the state’s systems for helping school districts comply with the IDEA’s inclusion mandates and then monitoring the defendant's compliance. It established tools for the Department of Education to monitor the quality of education for children with disabilities, require corrective action, and offer training for teachers and administrators.

In the settlement agreement, the Pennsylvania Department of Education agreed to make systemic changes pursuant to its general supervisory role over special education. The settlement agreement, effective for 5 years, included: increasing the state’s focus on districts with the worst records of inclusion, requiring corrective action plans; changing the complaint resolution process to increase parents’ rights; changing the approval process of districts’ special education programs; increased the state’s commitment to training and technical assistance; creating of an Advisory Panel to guide and assess progress in implementing the agreement other reforms in the state’s training, monitoring, and enforcement procedures.

Specifically, the Department of Education agreed to develop display materials for all public school showing all children are welcome; provide increased professional development for teachers and other school personnel; expand information and training that supports parents of children with disabilities; ensure that individualized education program teams determine the appropriateness of implementing goals in general education classrooms with supplementary aids and services; provide a single individualized education program for a student with a disability who also qualifies for gifted support; modify portions of the individualized education program to provide more information related to students participating in general education; clarify complaint resolution and investigation procedures; monitor of least restrictive environment requirements to ensure that districts comply with federal and state laws related to student placement.

The most significant aspect of the settlement agreement involved the provision for compliance monitoring, intended to ensure that local school districts are adhering to the IDEA and other federal and state laws that protect the rights of children with disabilities. The parties agreed that those school districts failing to comply with PDE’s corrective action plans--created to rectify deficiencies identified through any type of compliance monitoring--will be subject to sanctions and enforcement powers.

Under the agreement, the defendants agreed to pay plaintiffs $350,000 in full, final, and complete settlement and release of the plaintiffs’ claims for compensatory damages that have been asserted in this case. The plaintiffs would be responsible for allocating the $350,000 among themselves. Additionally, defendants would pay plaintiffs’ counsel $1,825,000 in full, final, and complete settlement and release of all claims by plaintiffs or their attorneys for attorneys’ fees and litigation costs.

On April 11, 2008, the plaintiffs filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement. The parties agreed to enter mediation to discuss enforcement of the settlement agreement, and on December 15, 2008, the plaintiff's motion to enforce settlement agreement was denied without prejudice by the court. There are no additional updates on the trial court docket, and the case is presumed closed.

In the final months of the agreement’s five-year life, however, Advisory Panel established in the settlement released a report on June 3, 2010, condemning the Department’s failure to make significant improvements in the education of children with disabilities.

The panel concluded that the promise of the settlement agreement had not been realized. Overall, inclusion increased very slightly – Pennsylvania improved its standing from 49th in the country to 43rd – but inclusion for many more severe disabilities remained the same or even decreased. Further, the panel noted that they had no way to assess whether the services and supports necessary to make inclusion succeed were ever provided. Small improvements included a “Supplementary Aids and Services Toolkit” developed to help Individualized Education Program teams plan for inclusion, as well as marginal regulatory and training improvements.

The Panel’s report most harshly criticized the Department’s failure to substantively monitor the state’s worst performing districts and to take meaningful corrective action in those districts.

Ginny Lee - 03/19/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Discrimination Prohibition
Monitoring
Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention
Remedial education
Reporting
Required disclosure
Student assignment
Training
Defendant-type
Elementary/Secondary School
Disability
disability, unspecified
General
Classification / placement
Failure to supervise
Failure to train
Individualized planning
Special education
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.
Indv. w/ Disab. Educ. Act (IDEA), Educ. of All Handcpd. Children Act , 20 U.S.C. § 1400
Defendant(s) Pennsylvania Department of Education
Plaintiff Description The case represented a class of 255,264 special education students, twelve named plaintiffs, and eleven disabilities advocacy organizations. They were represented by The Public Interest Law Center.
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2005 - 2010
Case Closing Year 2010
Case Ongoing No
Docket(s)
2:94−cv−04048 (E.D. Pa.)
ED-PA-0005-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/19/2009
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint
ED-PA-0005-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/30/1994
Settlement Agreement
ED-PA-0005-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/05/2005
Opinion (E.D. Pa.)
ED-PA-0005-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/16/2005
Final Report
ED-PA-0005-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/03/2010
Judges Robreno, Eduardo C. (E.D. Pa.)
ED-PA-0005-0003 | ED-PA-0005-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Drumheiser, Phillip A. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Gran, Judith A. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-0001 | ED-PA-0005-0002 | ED-PA-0005-9000
Lapertosa, Max (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Lowenthal, Jessica R. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Ransom, Barbara E. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-0001 | ED-PA-0005-0002 | ED-PA-0005-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Barrett, Linda C. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Cabell, Fredrick (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Fullerton, M Patricia (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-0002 | ED-PA-0005-9000
Mosley, Gwendolyn T. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Shopp, Judy (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
White, Lawrence (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Other Lawyers Bechtle, Louis Charles (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Berk, Harold R. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Driscoll, Donald (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Faust, Andrew E. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Hopkins, Anthony Marc (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Katz, Ellis H. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Levin, Michael I. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Mullaly, Rosemary E. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Petersen, Allison S. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Rothschild, Eric J. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Saia, Andria B. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Saltz, Stephen T. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Welling, Evalynn B. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000
Witherel, Michael J. (Pennsylvania)
ED-PA-0005-9000

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