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Case Name Issa v. School District of Lancaster IM-PA-0013
Docket / Court 5:16-cv-03881-EGS ( E.D. Pa. )
Additional Docket(s) 16-03528  [ 16-3528 ]  Federal Court of Appeals
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Immigration and/or the Border
Public Benefits / Government Services
Attorney Organization ACLU Affiliates (any)
Case Summary
On July 19, 2016, limited-English-proficient ("LEP") immigrants who, while aged 17-21, were or could have been in the future denied their right to equal educational opportunities and meaningful public education brought this class-action lawsuit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the ... read more >
On July 19, 2016, limited-English-proficient ("LEP") immigrants who, while aged 17-21, were or could have been in the future denied their right to equal educational opportunities and meaningful public education brought this class-action lawsuit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the School District of Lancaster. The plaintiffs sued under the Equal Education Opportunity Act and Section 601 of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that the defendant has a custom, practice, and policy of refusing to admit older immigrant LEP students into the District's regular high school, McCaskey, which had an International School specially tailored to the academic needs for new students in need of language supports and accommodations.

Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the District either refused to admit them altogether, or assigned them to an "alternative" school, Phoenix Academy, a school for underachieving students which runs more like a disciplinary school than a traditional public high school. Moreover, Phoenix Academy lacked adequate and appropriate supports of immigrant LEP students, and was academically inferior by all measures and offers no extracurricular opportunities. Represented by attorneys from Pepper Hamilton LLP, the Education Law Center, and the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, including a preliminary injunction, directing the District to admit the plaintiffs and class members to McCaskey and to make available the full range of curricular and extracurricular programs and activities before the 2016 fall semester.

On July 22, 2016, the plaintiffs filed their motion for preliminary injunction, as well as a motion to expedite discovery. A telephone conference was held on July 25, after which the plaintiffs' motion to expedite discovery was granted. On August 9, 2016, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss.

A hearing was held on August 19 and 23 on the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction, before U.S. District Court Judge Edward G. Smith; after the hearing, both parties filed memorandums of findings of fact and conclusions of law. On August 26, 2016, Judge Smith granted the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction in part, requiring the school district to permit the school-age plaintiffs who wish to attend the main high school beginning August 29, 2016, until the resolution of this matter. 2016 WL 4493202; 2016 WL 4493201. The defendant appealed this order on August 30, 2016. On August 26, Judge Smith also referred the case to Magistrate Judge Marilyn Heffley for a settlement conference, which was held on September 27.

On October 11, 2016, Judge Smith denied the plaintiffs' original motion for class certification without prejudice so that the plaintiffs could amend their motion after the completion of class-related discovery. Judge Smith, in an October 14, 2016, order, also denied the plaintiffs' more recent emergency motion for class certification and entry of preliminary injunction to protect similarly situated students without prejudice for refiling after the Third Circuit has concluded its review of defendant's appeal on the matter.

In December 2016, Judges Fisher, Krause, and Malloy of the Third Circuit heard oral arguments on the defendants’ appeal of Judge Smith’s preliminary injunction. The court affirmed Judge Smith’s ruling based on violations of the EEOA, agreeing that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims under the EEOA, that irreparable harm to the plaintiffs was likely, that the balance of harms favored the plaintiffs, and that preliminary relief was in the public interest. Regarding the state claims, the court held that the lower court erred in finding that the plaintiffs showed a likelihood of success on the merits, but held that nothing in the preliminary injunction order relied on the plaintiffs proving likely violations of state law. The court remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its ruling. 847 F.3d 121.

On February 14, 2017, Magistrate Judge Heffley ordered a second settlement conference to be held in early April. Two days later, on February 16, Judge Smith denied the school district’s motion to dismiss without prejudice. The parties held settlement conferences throughout the spring of 2016, and proposed a consent decree at the end of June. On June 29, 2017, Judge Smith signed a consent decree order.

The consent decree provided procedures by which the school district was to enroll immigrant students, including by evaluating their English language proficiency and placing them in appropriate programs. It prohibited the school from denying educational opportunities to students based on age or national origin. It also: committed the school to creating new staff positions and providing translation and interpretation services, created a compensatory education fund for students, and required additional teacher certification. The school district was required to make periodic monitoring reports. Further, the district was required to pay $300,000 for the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and $70,000 for the plaintiffs’ litigation costs.

On July 5, the court issued a stipulation and order that, by consent of the parties, the action was deemed resolved. The consent decree expired on June 30, 2019, and the case is now closed.

Saeeda Joseph-Charles - 12/17/2016
Alexandra Gilewicz - 03/25/2018
Caitlin Kierum - 11/23/2019

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Discrimination Prohibition
Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention
Preliminary relief granted
Elementary/Secondary School
Age discrimination
Language discrimination
National origin discrimination
Classification / placement
Language access/needs
Pattern or Practice
School/University Facilities
School/University policies
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
National Origin/Ethnicity
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action State law
Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.
Defendant(s) School District of Lancaster
Plaintiff Description Limited-English-proficient ("LEP") immigrants who, while aged 17-21, were, are, or may be in the future denied their right to equal educational opportunities and meaningful public education.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Affiliates (any)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Denied
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2017 - 2019
Filed 07/19/2016
Case Closing Year 2019
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  See this case at (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  The School I Deserve: Six Young Refugees and Their Fight for Equality in America
Date: Apr. 20, 2021
By: Jo Napolitano
Citation: (Beacon Press 2021)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
E.D. Pa.
IM-PA-0013-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
E.D. Pa.
Defendant's Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law [ECF# 32]
IM-PA-0013-0006.pdf | Detail
E.D. Pa.
Class Action Complaint [ECF# 1]
IM-PA-0013-0002.pdf | Detail
E.D. Pa.
Order [ECF# 2]
IM-PA-0013-0003.pdf | Detail
E.D. Pa.
Proposed Order [ECF# 7]
IM-PA-0013-0004.pdf | Detail
E.D. Pa.
Plaintiff's Post-Hearing Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law [ECF# 33]
IM-PA-0013-0005.pdf | Detail
E.D. Pa.
Memorandum Opinion [Granting Preliminary Injunction in Part] [ECF# 35] (2016 WL 4493202)
IM-PA-0013-0001.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
Opinion of the Court (847 F.3d 121)
IM-PA-0013-0008.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
E.D. Pa.
Consent Decree [ECF# 104]
IM-PA-0013-0007.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Fisher, D. Michael (Third Circuit) show/hide docs
Smith, Edward George (E.D. Pa.) show/hide docs
IM-PA-0013-0001 | IM-PA-0013-0003 | IM-PA-0013-0004 | IM-PA-0013-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Aryani, Hedya (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
IM-PA-0013-0007 | IM-PA-0013-9000
Cahill, Michelin (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Dutton, Alex (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Gurney, Kaitlin M. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
IM-PA-0013-0007 | IM-PA-0013-9000
Kreimer, Seth (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
IM-PA-0013-0005 | IM-PA-0013-0007 | IM-PA-0013-9000
McInerney, Maura I. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
IM-PA-0013-0005 | IM-PA-0013-0007 | IM-PA-0013-9000
Moon, Kristina (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
IM-PA-0013-0007 | IM-PA-0013-9000
Morley, Megan (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
Mullen, Kathleen A (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
IM-PA-0013-0007 | IM-PA-0013-9000
Rothschild, Eric J. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
IM-PA-0013-0005 | IM-PA-0013-9000
Tack-Hooper, Molly M. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
IM-PA-0013-0005 | IM-PA-0013-0007 | IM-PA-0013-9000
Walczak, Witold J. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
IM-PA-0013-0005 | IM-PA-0013-0007 | IM-PA-0013-9000
Defendant's Lawyers O'Donnell, Sharon M. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
IM-PA-0013-0006 | IM-PA-0013-0007 | IM-PA-0013-9000

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