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

Hulit in Legal Intelligencer: Dependency Court is No Place for Truant Kids

June 19th, 2019|0 Comments

Associate Heather J. Hulit knows dependency court.  Before joining Berney & Sang, she served as a Child Advocate Attorney for seven years, representing children in Philadelphia dependency court.  Like other Pennsylvania counties, Philadelphia sends kids who struggle with school attendance to dependency court.  Heather’s experiences showed her that this practice is misguided.

She explains why in her new Legal Intelligencer article, Dependency Court is No Place for Truant Kids.  You can read the article here.

Sang Presents at School Law Conference

June 13th, 2019|0 Comments

This month, partner Jennifer Sang presented at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute’s School Law Conference.  The Institute selected Ms. Sang and other well-known education attorneys to present on topics ranging from bullying and harassment to charter-school accountability.  Ms. Sang presented on special-education claims that arise when charter schools shut down and how courts have approached the claims.

Berney & Sang Defends Landmark School Harassment Verdict, Appeal Garners National Attention

May 24th, 2019|0 Comments

For more than half a decade, the School District of Philadelphia denied Amanda Wible equal educational opportunity.  Her peers had a chance to learn in a school setting free from severe or pervasive sexual harassment, but she was denied that chance.  Classmates sexually harassed her each day, assaulting her, spitting on her, destroying her schoolwork, spreading sexual rumors about her, and calling her “bitch,” “she-he,” “dyke,” “fag,” “slut,” and other sexual epithets.  The District did nothing, perpetuating the harassment through inaction.

Amanda was ultimately forced to drop out of the School District and enroll in a cyber charter school.  Thereafter, Berney & Sang represented her in a lawsuit against the School District, alleging that it violated her rights under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act by subjecting her to a sexually hostile school environment.

Last year, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas ruled in Amanda’s favor.  In a landmark decision, it confirmed that under state law Pennsylvania’s public schools have a duty to address discriminatory student-on-student harassment.

The School District, however, appealed to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.  On May 22, 2019, Berney & Sang filed Amanda’s brief defending her verdict.  You can read it here.

The appeal has garnered national attention.  The Education Law Center and Women’s Law Project filed an amicus brief in support of Amanda, with public-interest organizations from across the country signing on.  The organizations include:

  • The American Association of University Women American Civil Liberties Union
  • The ACLU of Pennsylvania
  • Atlanta Women for Equality
  • California Women’s Law Center Education Law Center
  • End Rape on Campus
  • Gender Justice
  • Gwen’s Girls, Inc.
  • The Juvenile Law Center
  • Legal Voice
  • The National Council of Jewish Women Pittsburgh National Crittenton
  • The National Women’s Law Center
  • The Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW)
  • The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
  • The Philadelphia NOW Education Fund
  • The Southwest Women’s Law Center
  • WOAR-Philadelphia Center Against Sexual Violence
  • Women Against Abuse, Inc.
  • Women and Girls Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania
  • The Women’s Law Center of Maryland, Inc.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the state’s anti-discrimination agency, also filed an amicus brief in support of Amanda.

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Berney & Sang Client Prevails in Federal Court, Obtains Private-School Tuition

April 23rd, 2019|0 Comments

This month, the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled for a Berney & Sang client in a special-education case against the Pennsylvania Department of Education.  The District Court ordered the Department to provide private-school tuition for the client’s two children.  The children, both of whom qualify for special-education services, previously attended a charter school which had a duty under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to pay the tuition, but it failed to do so and then closed down.  The client therefore sued the Department in a special-education due process hearing, arguing that the Department must step in for the charter school.  The client prevailed in the hearing, and the Department appealed to the District Court, which upheld the hearing decision and ruled for the client.

The District Court’s decision is Commonwealth Department of Education v. D.E., No. 17-4433 (Apr. 5, 2019).

Berney to Present at 2019 Special Education Law Conference

March 29th, 2019|0 Comments

Partner David J. Berney will be co-presenting at the upcoming 2019 Special Education Law Conference.  His presentation will address parents’ rights of access to student records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Pennsylvania law.  Mr. Berney will analyze the substantive laws that afford parents the right to access their child’s records, the records that are covered under those laws, and the records that parents have no right to access.

Kalra Secures Tuition Reimbursement and Comp Ed for Family

March 28th, 2019|0 Comments

This week, parents represented by attorney Vanita Kalra prevailed in a special education due process hearing against their child’s school district.  With Vanita’s assistance, the parents obtained compensatory education services and a year of private-school tuition reimbursement.

A hearing officer from the Pennsylvania Office of Dispute Resolution decided the case.  The decision will soon be available here.

Golembiewski in Legal Intelligencer: Court hands major win to families in case against the Dep’t of Education

March 21st, 2019|0 Comments

This week, associate Kevin Golembiewski published an article in the Legal Intelligencer highlighting a recent federal-court decision ordering the U.S. Department of Education to honor Obama-era regulations that address racial disparities in special education.  The decision is a major win for families.  The Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates was the plaintiff in the case.

Here’s the article’s introduction:

The U.S. Department of Education did not do its homework. In 2018, it halted Obama-era regulations that address racial disparities in special education, but according to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the department did not perform the necessary analysis before doing so. That failure violated not only mom’s cardinal rule (do your homework!) but also the Administrative Procedure Act. So the court vacated the department’s decision to halt the regulations, handing a major victory to children with disabilities and their families.

You can read the full article here.

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Berney & Sang Secures Over $135K of Comp Ed for Client in Federal Court

February 17th, 2019|0 Comments

This month, Berney & Sang secured over $135,000 of compensatory education for a parent and child in federal court.  The case, Jada H. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education, arose under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The child was denied a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) while attending a charter school, but the charter school closed without remedying the denial.  Therefore, the parent, Jada H., sought relief (compensatory education) from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Berney & Sang helped Jada H. secure the compensatory education.  First, the firm represented her in a due process hearing before the Pennsylvania Office of Dispute Resolution.  The hearing officer, however, dismissed Jada H.’s IDEA claims.  She therefore filed a complaint in federal court (the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania) challenging the hearing officer’s decision.  On February 4, 2019, the court ruled for her, vacating the decision and awarding her over $135,000 of compensatory education.

You can read the federal court’s opinion here.

 

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Attorney Heather Hulit, Longtime Advocate for Children, Joins Berney & Sang

February 14th, 2019|0 Comments

Berney & Sang is excited to announce that Heather Hulit, Esquire, is joining the firm as an associate attorney.  She brings to the firm years of experience fighting for children’s rights.  After graduating from Temple Law in 2012, Ms. Hulit served as a Child Advocate Attorney with the Philadelphia Defender Association for several years.  In that role, she represented countless youth in dependency proceedings.  Committed to continuing her work on behalf of children, Ms. Hulit will focus her practice at Berney & Sang on education law.

Ms. Hulit can be reached at hjhulit@berneylaw.com.

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Super Lawyers Selects Golembiewski as 2019 Rising Star

January 11th, 2019|0 Comments

Berney & Sang is proud to announce that Super Lawyers has selected associate Kevin Golembiewski as a 2019 Rising Star.  Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.  The selection process includes independent research, peer nominations, and peer evaluations. 

Congratulations Kevin! 

Legal Intelligencer: Judge Defends Decision Awarding B&S Client $500K

January 2nd, 2019|1 Comment

Below is the text of the Legal Intelligencer’s recent article Judge Defends Decision to Slam School District with $500K Verdict over Bullying.  The article spotlights Berney & Sang’s landmark school bullying and harassment case, Wible v. Philadelphia.

A Pennsylvania judge is defending his decision to have the School District of Philadelphia pay more than $500,000 for failing to stop a student from being severely bullied.

Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Gene Cohen last week outlined his reasoning to the Commonwealth Court for a ruling he made in May, which held that the School District of Philadelphia was liable for failing to stop one of its students from being severely bullied, and needed to pay $500,000 in damages to the student, as well as $578,000 in attorney and expert fees.

The school district had appealed the ruling to the Commonwealth Court, but Cohen rejected the district’s arguments and asked the appellate court to affirm his decision.

As part of its appeal, the school district had contended that the school was immune from suit for claims arising out of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which makes it unlawful for public entities to deny “accommodations or privileges” based on a person’s sex.

According to Cohen, appellate courts in Pennsylvania have not yet determined whether the PHRA applies to students who have been bullied by other students, but Cohen said that the plain language of the text and the purpose of the law indicate that courts should allow these types of claims.

“Plaintiff’s time in the school district was a gauntlet of sexual harassment and violence that would test the mettle of the strongest and most resilient youth. This harassment was endured for years until it became unbearable and plaintiff was forced to withdraw from the school district,” Cohen said. “In this way plaintiff was literally denied the use of a public accommodation on the basis of her sex. The PHRA forbids this.”

Cohen further noted that his underlying ruling had not found that the school was vicariously responsible for the student’s conduct, but rather it showed an indifference to the bullying and harassment.

“The school district is not generally liable for all conduct of its students,” Cohen said. “But it is liable, in its role as proprietor of a public accommodation, if it is deliberately indifferent to harassment and violence that has occurred and inevitably will continue to occur, and this harassment is so severe that it makes it impossible for one of the students entrusted to the school district’s care to enter the building.”

In the nine-page findings of facts and conclusions of law that Cohen issued in May following three weeks of trial, Cohen said that in the fall of 2003, the plaintiff, Amanda Wible, began attending Robert B. Pollock Elementary School in northeast Philadelphia, and her classmates soon began to tease, taunt and harass her because of her gender presentation, which Cohen described as not conforming to “societal expectations for girls in terms of appearance and dress.”

She was physically assaulted by a larger male student, who also teased her with sexualized taunts, and Wible’s mother notified the school of the bullying, Cohen said. Although the student was suspended, “effective efforts by Pollock to remedy this situation were non-existent,” Cohen said.

Wible’s mother, Cohen said, had her transferred to Alternative Middle Years at James Martin School in the Port Richmond section of the city. However, Wible continued to be targeted. Wible’s mother again reported the harassment to school officials, but the bullying continued.

Cohen said that, while in seventh grade in 2010, Wible was attacked by as many as 10 students, and she began to have panic attacks after that assault.

Wible then transferred midyear to C.C.A. Baldi Middle School in the Bustleton section. Cohen noted that, when she transferred, Wible’s mother met with the principal and vice principal at Baldi and her mother sent letters to Wible’s teachers explaining the bullying. However, she continued to be harassed based on her gender presentation.

Cohen said Wible developed a severe form of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as depression and anxiety. According to Cohen, she also engaged in self-harm, had suicidal thoughts and panic attacks. Cohen also noted that she developed a condition called amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome as a result of the bullying. Regarding her treatment, Cohen said, Wible needs specialized and intensive psychological treatment and behavioral therapy.

David Berney of Berney & Sang, who represented Wible, said Cohen issued a “strong” opinion.

“I know both Amanda and her mother feel fully vindicated by the decision, and we are grateful for what we thought was a judge who listened to everyone, carefully considered both sides and weighed the evidence,” Berney said.

Phinorice Boldin of Fineman Krekstein & Harris represented the Philadelphia School District. A spokesman for the school district said the district had no comment.

Berney in the Legal Intelligencer: President Trump, Education, and the American Dream

December 20th, 2018|0 Comments

This week, partner David J. Berney published an article in the Legal Intelligencer examining President Trump’s education agenda.  In the article, President Donald Trump, Education, and the American Dream, Berney discusses the role that education plays in the American dream and analyzes whether the President’s policies will improve the education system in meaningful ways.  Berney’s analysis is rooted in his experiences as an education lawyer who has represented hundreds of Philadelphia families.

You can access the article here.

Berney on KYW News for Landmark Bullying Case

December 12th, 2018|0 Comments

On November 13, 2018, David Berney, Esq. argued before a panel of judges of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in Nicole B. v. School District of Philadelphia. In that case, the student was the victim of brutal bullying and harassment. However, the lower court threw the case out because it did not believe that the minority tolling statute applied to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination law and the law under which the parent brought claims on behalf of the student. This case will potentially have long-lasting implications for students’ right to bring forth lawsuits for the unlawful bullying and harassment that they have suffered at school.

Listen to KYW News’s report here:

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

December 12th, 2018|0 Comments

There’s nothing more motivating for our work than seeing a student who has found the joy in learning. She just needed the right school.

Golembiewski Co-Counsels COPAA Amicus Brief in Ninth Circuit

December 2nd, 2018|0 Comments

Associate Kevin Golembiewski recently co-counseled an amicus brief in the United States Courts of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on behalf of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), a national nonprofit dedicated to parents and children with disabilities.  The brief, filed in support of the parent in Jay F. v. William S. Hart Union High School District, argued that manifestation determinations are critical to protecting the rights of children with emotional disturbance.

The California Association for Parent-Child Advocacy (CAPCA) also signed on to the amicus brief.

Philadelphia Gay News Spotlights Landmark Berney & Sang Bullying Case

November 9th, 2018|0 Comments

The Philadelphia Gay News recently published a story on Wible v. School District of Philadelphia, the landmark bullying case that Berney & Sang litigated this year.  You can access the article, Phila. school district appeals $500,000 award for bullying victim, here.

Philadelphia Inquirer Publishes Story on Berney & Sang’s Landmark Bullying Case

October 27th, 2018|0 Comments

The Philadelphia Inquirer published a story today on Wible v. School District of Philadelphia, the landmark bullying case that Berney & Sang litigated this year.  You can access the article, Bullied in school, a Northeast Philly woman won a $500,000 judgment. Her case could ripple, here.

Berney Presents on Special Ed Law at the Jenkins Law Library

October 25th, 2018|0 Comments

On October 24, 2018, partner David J. Berney presented on special education law at the Jenkins Law Library in Philadelphia.  His presentation focused on his path to becoming a special education lawyer and why others should consider a career in special education law.

The presentation was inspired by associate Kevin Golembiewski’s recent article, Recent Law School Grads: I’m a Special Education Attorney, Please Join Me, which appeared in the Legal Intelligencer.

Berney and Sang to Present at 2018 Exceptional Children’s Conference

October 1st, 2018|0 Comments

Each year, the Pennsylvania Bar Institute hosts the Exceptional Children’s Conference, Pennsylvania’s premier conference on special education law.  At the Conference, select attorneys and hearing officers present on issues related to special education law.  Partners David J. Berney and Jennifer Y. Sang were selected to present at this year’s Conference.  They, with school district attorney Sarah B. Dragotta, will present on federal and state laws that protect children with disabilities from bullying and harassment:

The Conference is Monday, October 8, 2018 in Lancaster, PA at the Marriott.  The brochure is here.

Golembiewski Co-Counsels U.S. Supreme Court Amicus Brief

September 12th, 2018|0 Comments

This term, the United States Supreme Court will decide whether the Constitution’s Excessive Fines Clause applies to the states.  The case is Timbs. v. Indiana.  Associate Kevin Golembiewski co-counseled an amicus brief in support of the petitioner, Mr. Timbs, who seeks protection of the Clause.  Mr. Golembiewski co-counseled in his capacity as amicus chair of the Federal Bar Association’s Civil Rights Section.  Several other organizations also counseled the brief, including the DKT Liberty Project, the Due Process Institute, the Goldwater Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Here’s a brief overview of the case.  Mr. Timbs was convicted for non-violent offenses in Indiana state court.  The District Attorney sought to take his car by civil forfeiture, but the trial court held that the Excessive Fines Clause prohibits the forfeiture.  According to the court, the maximum fine for Timbs’s offenses was $10,000 and the car was worth four times that, so forfeiting it was excessive.

The state court of appeals affirmed, but the state Supreme Court reversed, finding that the Excessive Fines Clause does not apply to the states through the 14th Amendment.  In doing so, the Court recognized that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has concluded the opposite.
Mr. Timbs then asked the United States Supreme Court to review the decision.  The Court agreed to.  It will hear the case in the coming months.

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