Three Pennsylvania school districts and several teachers, board members, and parents, filed a petition against the Pennsylvania Department of Education (“PDE”) on April 17, 2023, challenging new guidelines implemented by PDE relating to educator preparation, induction, and continuing professional development.
The petition alleges these guidelines, among other things, violate Pennsylvania’s Regulatory Review Act, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the First Amendment to that Constitution of the Commonwealth. But what do the guidelines actually say?
Specifically, on April 23, 2022, final amendments to Chapter 49 (relating to Certification of Professional Personnel) of Title 22 of the Pennsylvania Code became effective, and the amendments require PDE to identify competencies and develop associated standards for educator training in “Culturally Relevant and Sustaining Education” (“CR-SE”). Additionally, the amendments require CR-SE training to be integrated into an educator preparation, induction, and continuing professional development program.
The amendments require continuing professional development programs to integrate the CR-SE competencies no later than the 2023-2024 academic year, and educator preparation and induction programs to integrate CR-SE competencies no later than the 2024-2025 academic year.
Subsequently, PDE released guidelines, which are the subject of this petition, titled “Culturally-Relevant and Sustaining Education Program Framework Guidelines”, which outline nine (9) different competency levels and the respective standards. These guidelines outline professional development standards and deal solely with the training, certification, and continued education and professional development of Pennsylvania educators.
Suit Calls Guidelines Compelled Speech
Petitioners allege that the CR-SE Guidelines are “ambiguous” and “overly broad” and “inconsistent with the [Pennsylvania’s] Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators.” The 82-page petition filed in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court also claims that PDE violated Pennsylvania’s Regulatory Review Act by implementing the guidelines without proper review, oversight, and/or procedure.
The three school districts involved in the lawsuit are the Laurel School District, the Mars Area School District, and the Penncrest School District. They allege the guidelines, which are scheduled to go into effect on July 1 in all school districts in the state, cannot be applied by school administrators in an “equitable, unbiased, objective” manner.
The competency guidelines are as follows:
• Competency 1 – Reflect on One’s Cultural Lens
• Competency 2 – Identify, Deepen Understanding of, and Take Steps to Address Bias in the System
• Competency 3 – Design and Facilitate Culturally Relevant Learning the Brings Real World Experiences into Educational Spaces
• Competency 4 – Provide All Learners with Equitable and Differentiated Opportunities to Learn and Succeed
• Competency 5 – Promote Asset-based Perspectives about Differences
• Competency 6 – Collaborate with Families and Communities through Authentic Engagement Practices
• Competency 7 – Communicate in Linguistically and Culturally Responsive Ways that Demonstrate Respect for Learners, Educators, Educational Leaders, and Families
• Competency 8 – Establish High Expectations for Each Learner and Treat Them as Capable and Deserving of Achieving Success
• Competency 9 – Educate Oneself About Microaggressions and their Impact on Diverse Learners, Educators, and Families, and Actively Disrupt the Practice by Naming and Challenging its Use.
Petitioners alleged these guidelines and respective competency standards require teachers “to disrupt harmful institutional practices, policies, and norms” and “design learning experiences and spaces for learners to identify and question economic, political, and social power structures in the school, community, nation, and world.”
The parent petitioners claim their children will be forced to “conform their beliefs, behaviors, and speech to the ideological tenets of [PDE].” Their children’s “behavior will be scrutinized by their teachers to determine whether they exhibit microaggressions which their teachers will then take steps to indoctrinate them in the ideology of the CR-SE Guidelines,” according to the suit.
The petition asks the Commonwealth Court to declare the guidelines unconstitutional. PDE has 30 days to respond to the petition.
Bottom Line for Schools
CR-SE guidelines amend Chapter 49, which governs the requirements for educator preparation, certification, induction, and ongoing professional education. Currently, there are no direct implications on, or requirements relating to, curriculum, educational instruction, or materials distributed to students. The recent amendments and respective guidelines implemented by PDE concern the training and continuing education of Pennsylvania educators and their individual professional development.
Teachers are not required, nor do the guidelines even suggest, to instruct and/or provide educational materials and resources to students relating to CR-SE.
School leaders with questions or concerns about the CR-SE guidelines should contact their school solicitor or one of the Education attorneys at KingSpry.