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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 ]
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Immigration and/or the Border
Public Benefits / Government Services
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
Case Summary
On July 19, 2016, 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, 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, are, or may be 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 has 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 lacks adequate and appropriate supports of immigrant LEP students, and is academically inferior by all measures and offers no extra-curricular 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 extra-curricular 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 expidite 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. 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.

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 to the district raising its argument in a motion for summary judgment. 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 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. The district was also 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 is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2019.

Saeeda Joseph-Charles - 12/17/2016
Alexandra Gilewicz - 03/25/2018


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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
Preliminary relief granted
Reporting
Defendant-type
Elementary/Secondary School
Discrimination-basis
Age discrimination
Language discrimination
National origin discrimination
General
Classification / placement
Education
Language/ethnic/minority needs
Pattern or Practice
School/University Facilities
School/University policies
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Language
Other
National Origin/Ethnicity
Other
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
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 Chapters (any)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted No
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
Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2017 - 2019
Filing Year 2016
Case Closing Year 2019
Case Ongoing Yes
Docket(s)
5:16-cv-3881 (E.D. Pa.)
IM-PA-0013-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/05/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Defendant's Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law [ECF# 32]
IM-PA-0013-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/25/2016
Class Action Complaint [ECF# 1]
IM-PA-0013-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/19/2016
Order [ECF# 2] (E.D. Pa.)
IM-PA-0013-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/19/2016
Proposed Order [ECF# 7] (E.D. Pa.)
IM-PA-0013-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/22/2016
Plaintiff's Post-Hearing Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law [ECF# 33]
IM-PA-0013-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/25/2016
Memorandum Opinion [Granting Preliminary Injunction in Part] (E.D. Pa.)
IM-PA-0013-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/26/2016
Judges Smith, Edward George (E.D. Pa.)
IM-PA-0013-0001 | IM-PA-0013-0003 | IM-PA-0013-0004 | IM-PA-0013-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Aryani, Hedya (Pennsylvania)
IM-PA-0013-9000
Gurney, Kaitlin M. (Pennsylvania)
IM-PA-0013-9000
Kreimer, Seth (Pennsylvania)
IM-PA-0013-0005 | IM-PA-0013-9000
McInerney, Maura I. (Pennsylvania)
IM-PA-0013-0005 | IM-PA-0013-9000
Moon, Kristina (Pennsylvania)
IM-PA-0013-9000
Mullen, Kathleen A (Pennsylvania)
IM-PA-0013-9000
Rothschild, Eric J. (Pennsylvania)
IM-PA-0013-0005 | IM-PA-0013-9000
Tack-Hooper, Molly M. (Pennsylvania)
IM-PA-0013-0005 | IM-PA-0013-9000
Walczak, Witold J. (Pennsylvania)
IM-PA-0013-0005 | IM-PA-0013-9000
Defendant's Lawyers O'Donnell, Sharon M. (Pennsylvania)
IM-PA-0013-0006 | IM-PA-0013-9000

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