Discrimination Complaint Filed Against Wissahickon School District

District releases a statement, calls the complaint 'curious.'

The complaint was filed to the United States Department of Education (DOE). It alleges that the Wissahickon School District was discriminating against those in the Hispanic community by not translating messaging about the closure of Mattison Avenue Elementary School into alternative languages. 

According to a released statement from the district, the Wissahickon board finds the claims "curious."

"This Complaint was filed over six weeks after the completion of the public hearing related to the school closure issue," said the district statement. "The Complaint curiously makes no mention of the fact that the District provided translation services during the hearing process, nor that the District translated into Spanish various notice and content-based documents during the school closure hearing process."

The district asked the community to be patient as it investigates the matter. Private counsel has been assigned to cover the district in the matter.

"Members of the Wissahickon community should recognize that the fact that mere allegations have been made in a complaint does not mean that those allegations have any merit whatsoever," said the statement.

The time and money the district is forced to use was noted as a point of apparent frustration.

"The District will necessarily be required to expend substantial funds and, more importantly, the valuable time of its Board members and administrators in properly defending these allegations," said the released statement.

The district's statement noted its innocence in the matter, as well.

"In sum, the allegations are without merit and the District will at all times continue to treat persons of all national origins and races fairly and equally and 

as required by law," it said.

The complaint was initially covered by a Jan. 11 blog by Karen Palmer on Ambler Patch.

The initial letter, the concerned parents said that the district was at fault for discriminating in two ways.

The letter noted they "discriminates against Hispanic students on the basis of race by proposing the closure of the Mattison Avenue Elementary School (the School), which will have a disparate impact on Hispanic students" and secondly, "discriminates against Hispanic parents on the basis of national origin by failing to provide effective methods of communication to Hispanic parents at the School who are limited in English proficiency."

Attached within this story is the letter received in response to the complaint as filed with the U.S. Department of Education. It is dated Dec. 18, 2012. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) said it will look into the matter.

"We will investigate these allegations because the OCR has jurisdiction and the allegations were filed timely," reads the DOE letter, written and signed by Rhasheda S. Douglas, team leader. The letter is on DOE letterhead. "Please note that investigating and allegation in no way implies that OCR has decided its merits."

According to an article in the Ambler Gazette last week, the complaint states communications were not translated throughout the closure discussions.

"The school community takes it upon themselves to translate, so anything from the school is in Spanish but no communication via email, U.S. mail, schoolbag or phone is translated," said the complaint. "These people have no voice."

The name of the person who filed the complaint has not been released by the DOE because it "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy," said the Gazette report.

One parent at a recent meeting noted this lack of fairness.

"The Hispanic community in Ambler had no knowledge about the possible closure of Mattison, until a bilingual parent met with them on the playground after school in September," said Mattison Avenue mother Christine Delaurentis, according to the Gazette. 

She said, in a recent school board meeting on the matter, that it was unfair that some parents were unaware.

"Those poor parents sat there for that entire two-hour hearing and had no idea what was going on, because they were not allowed to know," said Delaurentis. "Don’t lie to the people of this district."

In addition to the language barriers, the complaint to the DOE alleges the new "alternative school" offered in response to the Mattison Avenue closure is unreasonable for the Hispanic community.

A report on StudyInStates.com said the issues surrounding transportation were a large concern.

"The complaint also states the closure of Mattison Avenue negatively impacts the Latino community because most in the community do not own vehicles," said the StudyInStates website. "While Mattison Avenue is a walkable school, the alternative school is allegedly 'inaccessible via public transportation and walking is prohibitive' because there are no sidewalks and the roads leading to the school are dangerous."

The lack of preschool programs, the site said, was another concern noted in the complaint.

"It further states the closure of Mattison Avenue will allegedly lead to the end the Head Start program in Ambler, leaving a lasting negative impact on the community that relies on the program to help Spanish-speaking children learn English at a young age," said the article.

penllynjohn February 13, 2013 at 06:12 PM
Yesterday I learned of what I believe is the first Latino family with little kids planning to leave Ambler,since the redlining force-out caused by the Board's closure of Mattison Avenue.They will break up their extended family support in Ambler and relocate to Flourtown and its' schools because that grade school will be within walking distance for the non-driving mother and where the mother works. Government school boards forcing poverty minorities to relocate like this is racially discriminatory .Is WSD in Alabama in the 50's?
Donna Picotta February 14, 2013 at 12:57 AM
Let us know where the house is located. People are really interested in Whitpain/Ambler area because of the schools and demographics. Crime level must not be high enough up here. They will now be closer to Philly, leaving the amateurs and seeking the professionals
Donna Picotta February 14, 2013 at 12:57 AM
Adios. Via con dios!!
JEVsharp February 14, 2013 at 03:54 AM
Penllynjohn - What was the "non-driving mom" who works in Flourtown planning to do when her children reached grades 4/5 at Shady Grove? Guess what...Ambler is NOT the only town within the WSD where non-English speaking, non-driving parents live. Do you think that the district's "poverty minorities" that you write about live ONLY in Ambler? There are students living in Lower Gywnedd and Blue Bell with non-English speaking parents and they are doing just fine.
Diane Burgess June 05, 2013 at 04:15 PM
Hi Malian, my name is Diane Burgess and I chair education for the ambler branch of the naval. I would love to talk to you . My email address is burgessjbur@verizon.net. hope to hear from you soon.


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