News 2017-10-27T19:08:20+00:00

The Notebook: Berney & Sang Appeal Addresses Critical School Bullying & Harassment Issues

February 22nd, 2018|0 Comments

The Notebook, Philadelphia’s leading newspaper on public education, published an article today covering Berney & Sang’s appeal in Nicole B. v. School District of Philadelphia.  The appeal argues that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act protect students from discriminatory bullying and harassment.  It is a landmark appeal, with the potential to secure important protections for children who suffer bullying and harassment.  Several prominent civil rights organizations are supporting the appeal, including the Education Law Center, the Public Interest Law Center, Pennsylvania Disability Rights, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, and the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates.

The Notebook’s article highlights the importance of the appeal, stating:

[N]o appellate court in Pennsylvania has yet considered how the act applies to school districts when it comes to bullying.  That leaves students and families the option of going to federal court, which can be more costly and difficult.  If the appeal . . . is granted, the decision may set a precedent that makes it easier for families seeking recompense for discriminatory abuse in school.

You can access the full article here.


Sang to Serve as Panelist at Philly Linguistic and Multicultural Disability Summit

February 18th, 2018|0 Comments

Partner Jennifer Sang has been selected to serve as a panelist at the First Annual Greater Philadelphia Linguistic and Multicultural Disability Summit.  According to Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, one of the Summit’s organizers, the Summit aims to “bring together culturally and linguistically diverse disability communities for a day of dialogue, cultural appreciation, and action planning to address the needs of the disability community.”  The Honorable Tony Coehlo, who helped write the American Disabilities Act, will offer remarks.

Jennifer will serve on a panel titled, “Reimagining Special Education in the 21st Century.”  Her co-panelists will include Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, Councilwoman Helen Gym, Otis Hackney from the Mayor’s Office on Education, and William Hite, the Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia.  Jennifer is honored to present with such an accomplished panel, and she is excited to leverage her experiences as a special education lawyer to address the needs of diverse disability communities.  Jennifer has represented hundreds of Philadelphia families in special education cases; she is eager to use what she’s learned in those cases to make a systemic impact.

The Summit is scheduled for March 17, 2018 from 9AM to 2PM.

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Golembiewski Co-Counsels 11th Circuit Special Education Appeal

February 16th, 2018|0 Comments

Associate Kevin Golembiewski is representing a child with autism in a special education appeal before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.  He is co-counseling the appeal with Southern Legal Counsel, a public interest law firm based in Florida, and Alice Nelson, Esquire.

The appeal presents multiple issues of first impression, including the proper standard for IEP-implementation claims.

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) has filed an amicus brief in support of the appeal.

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Press Release: Berney & Sang Appeal Ruling Denying PA Children Protection from Discriminatory Bullying and Harassment

January 29th, 2018|0 Comments

Release: Appeal challenges Philadelphia court’s ruling that Pennsylvania school districts have no obligation to protect children from discriminatory bullying and harassment.

January 29, 2018

Contact: Kevin Golembiewski; Berney & Sang; 215.690.1722; kag@berneylaw.com; @k_golembiewski (Twitter).

Philadelphia, PA: An appeal filed last week against the School District of Philadelphia seeks to overturn a Court of Common Pleas decision finding that Pennsylvania school districts have no obligation to protect children from discriminatory bullying and harassment. The appeal argues that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA)—Pennsylvania’s flagship antidiscrimination statute—requires school districts to take corrective measures when they know a child is being bullied or harassed based on a protected characteristic such as race, sex, religion, or disability.

The appeal arises from a fourth grader’s horrifying experiences at the William C. Bryant School in West Philadelphia: the boy was bullied, harassed, and ultimately raped at Bryant.

Several prominent civil rights organizations have filed amicus briefs in support of the appeal, including the Education Law Center, the Public Interest Law Center, the Juvenile Law Center, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Disability Rights Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.

The appeal has broad implications for Pennsylvania students. A decision affirming the Court of Common Pleas would leave students with no protections against discriminatory bullying and harassment under Pennsylvania law. This would make Pennsylvania an anomaly—other states require school districts to protect students.

In 2011, the boy at the center of the appeal transferred to Bryant, and three classmates immediately targeted him, harassing him because he did not conform to norms about masculinity. The harassment was also racially charged. Every day the classmates called him names like “fa****,” “gay,” “homo,” “b****,” “pu***,” “d*** eater,” “black n****r,” and “black a**.” They beat him, kicked him, and shoved him. They broke his glasses, dumped his books out of his backpack, cornered him in bathrooms, and threatened to kill him. They bullied him into unwanted sexual acts, forcing him to watch a video of two men having sex and to simulate sex with a flagpole while a group of students watched and laughed. They also dared him to run into the girls’ bathroom and sexually assault his classmates.

School officials knew about this physical and verbal harassment, but they failed to take corrective measures. So the harassment continued for weeks, culminating in the three classmates raping the boy in a school bathroom while they screamed, “give it to the fag.”

After the rape, Berney & Sang, a civil rights law firm, filed this lawsuit alleging that the School District of Philadelphia violated the PHRA by ignoring the bullying and harassment.

Berney & Sang receives countless calls each year from parents who are desperate to protect their children from bullying and harassment. For all too many children in Pennsylvania, discussions of bullying and harassment trigger the well-known response: “Me Too.”

“Unfortunately, the Education Law Center hears frequently from families about issues of bullying and harassment in schools,” said Lizzy Wingfield, Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader Fellow at the Education Law Center. “The issue of unaddressed bullying is pervasive and is particularly common when the bullied student is a child of color who does not conform to societal gender norms or is LGBTQ. Too many people who should intervene to stop bullying view the harassment of gender nonconforming or LGBTQ students of color as if it is normal, so they don’t take it as seriously as the bullying of white, gender-conforming students. That’s why it is so critical that the PHRA is available as a tool to root out discriminatory pervasive bullying.”

Catherine Reisman, counsel for the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, added: “There is clear evidence from social scientists that students who are bullied at school—particularly students with disabilities—are effectively robbed of the benefits of a public education.” “In addition, bullying negatively impacts these students’ physical and mental well-being. The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and Disability Rights Pennsylvania filed their amicus brief to ensure that the appellate court is aware of these devastating consequences.”

“School bullying damages our children in ways that can’t easily be undone. As a result, bullying is not only an education issue, it is also a public health issue,” David J. Berney, the lead attorney on the appeal, said. “In enacting the PHRA, the state legislature intended to protect children from discriminatory bullying—our appeal gives Pennsylvania’s appellate courts a chance to reaffirm that.”

Berney also criticized the School District of Philadelphia for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring outside law firms to dispute the case rather than devoting those resources to combating harassment in schools.

The School District of Philadelphia will file its response to the appeal in the coming weeks. There is no timeline yet for a decision.

Berney named 2018 Super Lawyer

January 16th, 2018|0 Comments

Partner David J. Berney has once again been named a Super Lawyer.  This is his tenth straight year being selected.  Only lawyers “who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement” are selected as Super Lawyers.  Congratulations David!

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Golembiewski Publishes Article Explaining Why Complacency is a Foe of Justice

December 22nd, 2017|0 Comments

Yesterday, associate Kevin Golembiewski published an article in the Legal Intelligencer discussing how complacency contributes to injustice.  The article focuses on complacency within schools, using a recent Education Law Center complaint against the School District of Philadelphia to illustrate the consequences of complacency in the face of wrongdoing.

You can access the article, “Education Law Center Complaint Illustrates Why Complacency is a Foe of Justice,” here.

Black-Smith Prevails in Back-to-Back Due Process Hearings

December 18th, 2017|0 Comments

Associate Morgen Black-Smith recently secured victories for two families in special education due process hearings.  In both cases, Black-Smith represented parents of children with disabilities who used to attend Khepera Charter School.  Alleging that Khepera denied their children a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), the parents requested compensatory education services.  The Hearing Officer agreed with the parents that Khepera denied their children FAPE and awarded around $14,000 in compensatory education services to each family.  Further, after concluding that the children’s placement at a private school is their “stay-put” placement, the Hearing Officer ordered Khepera to pay the children’s tuition at the school.  The first decision is J.D. v. Khepera Charter School, and the second is J.R. v. Khepera Charter School.

See Berney in Action Before the Third Circuit

November 7th, 2017|0 Comments

Last month, David J. Berney argued an important special education case before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  Berney argued that a special education parent is entitled to attorney’s fees when a school district includes neither fees nor pendency in a 10-day offer.  (A 10-day offer is a type of settlement offer made in special education cases.)  The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) participated in the case as an amicus, supporting Berney’s position.

Here’s a short clip of the argument (the full argument can be accessed here):

Berney Argues on Behalf of a Parent Before the Third Circuit

October 24th, 2017|0 Comments

On October 23, 2017, David J. Berney argued before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of a parent of a student with special needs.  Berney sought to reverse the lower court, which denied the parent reimbursement for her attorney’s fees and costs after she won private school tuition, one-on-one instruction, and pendency at a due process hearing.

The Notebook Highlights Recent Berney & Sang Appellate Win

October 23rd, 2017|0 Comments

Philadelphia’s education newspaper, The Notebook, has published an article examining a recent appeals court decision ruling in favor of a group of special education students represented by Berney & Sang.  The decision, H.E. v. Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School, can be accessed here.  And The Notebook article is available here.

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Berney & Sang Prevails before the Third Circuit in an Important Special Ed Case

October 19th, 2017|0 Comments

Last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a precedential opinion awarding relief to a group of special education students represented by Berney & Sang.  The opinion secures important procedural rights for students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  The court’s opinion, H.E. v. Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School, can be accessed here.

Vanita Kalra Secures Tuition Reimbursement Award

October 10th, 2017|0 Comments

This summer, of counsel attorney Vanita Kalra won a significant victory for a child with special needs.  Vanita represented the child’s parent in a due process hearing against the child’s school district and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.  With Vanita’s help, the parent prevailed at the hearing, securing an award of tuition reimbursement.  The award allows the child to continue attending a private school.

The hearing officer decision for the case can be found here.

Jennifer Sang Named Partner

July 6th, 2017|0 Comments

In summer 2017, attorney Jennifer Sang was named at partner at Berney law.  Jennifer has litigated hundreds of special education cases, consistently achieving excellent results for parents and students.  The firm is grateful to have her as a partner.

Black-Smith Presents at Lehigh’s Special Education Law Conference

May 12th, 2017|0 Comments

On May 12, 2017, Morgen Black-Smith presented at Lehigh University’s 45th Annual Special Education Law Conference.  Her presentation focused on the legal protections for special education students when they transition from early intervention to kindergarten.

Berney Presents at the 2016 Exceptional Children’s Conference

November 23rd, 2016|0 Comments

On October 7, 2016, David J. Berney served as an instructor at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute’s 2016 Exceptional Children’s Conference.  Partnering with the Honorable Juan Sanchez of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and a school-side attorney, David presented about federal special education practice.

The Exceptional Children’s Conference is the premier statewide conference on special education law in Pennsylvania.

Black-Smith and Berney Publish Article on Transgender Students

July 27th, 2016|0 Comments

On June 27, 2016, Morgen Black-Smith and David J. Berney published in The Legal Intelligencer, the oldest law journal in the United States, an article on transgender students’ equal access rights.  The article is titled, “Transgender Students: A Unique Frontier for Civil Rights.”

Berney & Sang at 18th Annual COPAA Conference

March 12th, 2016|0 Comments

Join us for a coffee break on Saturday, March 12, 2016 at 10:30 AM at the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates’s 18th Annual Conference. COPAA is an independent organization of attorneys, advocates, and parents established to protect the legal and civil rights of students with disabilities and their families. This year, the annual conference is held in Philadelphia. For more information, please visit COPAA’s website.

On the same day at 1:30 PM, associate Jennifer Sang will be co-presenting “Beyond ABCs – Obtaining & Using Effective Positive Behavior”. She will be reviewing the law surrounding students who need behavior supports and services.

Berney Co-Authors Article on Zero-Tolerance Policies in Schools

December 15th, 2015|0 Comments

On December 31, 2015, David J. Berney and Calisha Myers published in The Legal Intelligencer, the oldest law journal in the United States, an article on zero-tolerance policies and their effects on special education students.

Sang Presents at National Business Institute’s Special Education Seminar

December 14th, 2015|0 Comments

On December 14, 2015, associate Jennifer Y. Sang presented at the National Business Institute’s Special Education Laws Made Simple seminar. Jennifer presented on the laws surrounding evaluations, eligibility, and school actions that can result in lawsuits.

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Sang Co-Authors Article on G.L. v. Ligonier Valley School District

December 3rd, 2015|0 Comments

On December 3, 2015, Jennifer Y. Sang and Sonia D. Kerr published in The Notebook an article on the implications of the Third Circuit’s recent decision in G.L. v. Ligonier Valley School District.  G.L. affects the statute of limitations in special education cases. 

The Notebook is an independent nonprofit news outlet that supports parents, students, teachers, and the Philadelphia public school community. 

You can read Jennifer and Sonia’s article here.


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