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GURMANKIN v. COSTANZO

April 2, 1976

JUDITH GURMANKIN, on behalf of herself and all other persons similarly situated
v.
MATTHEW COSTANZO, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEWCOMER

 The plaintiff is a blind woman who brought this action on behalf of herself and a class of visually handicapped individuals qualified to teach in the public schools of Philadelphia. The plaintiff alleged that the hiring practices of the School District of Philadelphia discriminated against visually handicapped teachers in violation of the equal protection clause and the due process clause of the United States Constitution. The plaintiff also alleged violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and claimed that these violations were unconstitutional under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

 Upon consent of the parties, a consolidated preliminary and final injunction hearing was held in July, 1975, pursuant to Rule 65(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court reserved making a decision on plaintiff's motion for determination of a class pending resolution of the named plaintiff's request for injunctive relief.

 The court makes the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law pursuant to Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 1. Plaintiff Judith Gurmankin is 31 years old and went blind at age 12. She attended Overbrook School for the Blind and then became the first blind student to attend Northeast High School in Philadelphia, where she graduated in the top one-fifth of her class in June, 1962.

 2. Ms. Gurmankin has always wanted to be a teacher. After completing high school she enrolled in Temple University, majored in English, and received her Bachelor of Science degree in Education in June, 1968. She then obtained a Professional Certificate from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to teach Comprehensive English in Pennsylvania Public Schools. The plaintiff also has earned twenty-four hours of graduate credits at Temple University toward a master's degree in special education, and was graduated from Gratz College where she qualified and received a license to teach Jewish history and religion.

 3. Ms. Gurmankin has done part-time teaching of Jewish history and religion at Keneseth Israel Hebrew School, Elkins Park, and also has taught part-time at the Oxford Circle Jewish Community Center. She has been a substitute teacher at Cheltenham High School, outside Philadelphia.

 4. In 1966 while Ms. Gurmankin was attending Temple University, she met with Dr. Martin Ferrier, the Philadelphia School District's Personnel Director. Dr. Ferrier told her that she would be unable to obtain employment as a secondary school English teacher in the Philadelphia School District because the medical division normally would restrict blind applicants to service in schools and classes for blind and partially sighted students.

 5. Sometime between 1967 and 1968 Ms. Gurmankin was a student teacher at the Logan School. The Logan School is a public elementary school in the School District which functions both as a neighborhood school for about 500 children and as a citywide center for about 175 visually handicapped children. After the eighth grade visually handicapped students are placed in regular schools.

 6. Ms. Gurmankin did not complete her student teaching at the Logan School. She withdrew from the program apparently because she wanted to teach sighted students and she did not believe that remaining at Logan School would help her reach that goal.

 7. While student teaching at Logan School Ms. Gurmankin had many of the same problems encountered by most student teachers, including keeping up to date with lesson planning, having materials prepared on time, and maintaining a good relationship with her supervising teacher. Ms. Gurmankin testified that she was not highly motivated to teach visually handicapped students. She thought she could help the blind more by being with sighted persons who needed to learn more about the blind.

 8. Ms. Gurmankin was unable to obtain a position for student teaching sighted students in a Philadelphia public secondary school. Consequently, she did her student teaching at Schwenksville High School.

 9. At Schwenksville, Ms. Gurmankin student taught five high school English classes for eight weeks. She used the blackboard and various equipment such as a record player and a tape recorder, gave examinations, taught Shakespeare from a Braille text, and had no problems getting around the building after the first week. While the students apparently showed enthusiasm for Ms. Gurmankin's teaching, her supervising teacher, Mrs. Rebecca Price, made the following evaluation of her teaching performance: "Without the period to period assistance of Mr. Omasko [the master teacher at Schwenksville], the student aides who aided and worked and many others who helped and assisted this student teaching experience would never have met with the minimal success that it did." Most of this assistance was given to Ms. Gurmankin between classes or during her free periods.

 10. In 1969, Ms. Gurmankin again met with defendant Dr. Martin Ferrier to inquire about employment opportunities. She was examined by the School District's Director of Medical Services but was rejected for any position teaching sighted pupils because of her blindness.

 11. The medical and personnel policy of the Philadelphia School District until 1974 was to exclude blind teachers from teaching sighted students in public schools. Applicants who were certified as having a "chronic or acute physical defect," administered as including the blind, were prevented from taking the teacher's examination.

 12. In 1971 or 1972 Ms. Gurmankin met with School Superintendent Matthew Costanzo and reiterated her desire to teach in the Philadelphia School District.

 13. In 1973, Ms. Gurmankin was examined again by the Division of Health Services and was accepted as a substitute teacher.

 14. In the fall of 1973, with the assistance of counsel at Community Legal Services, Inc., Ms. Gurmankin made contact with Mrs. Tobyann Boonin, a member of the School Board. Mrs. Boonin arranged for Ms. Gurmankin to take the written and oral parts of the examination for secondary school English teachers.

 15. Ms. Gurmankin took the examination in the spring of 1974. Her score on the written examination was 82, which placed her 56th among the 164 written examinations graded. The average score on the written examination was 74.15, and the median score was 77. On the oral examination, Ms. Gurmankin's score was 72, only slightly above the minimum passing grade of 70. In addition, 106 of the teachers taking the same examination had score points added to their combined written and oral test scores. There score points are awarded for prior student teaching within Philadelphia public schools. For the 106 applicants that had student taught in Philadelphia, the average number of score points awarded was 6.4. Since Ms. Gurmankin had done her student teaching in Schwenksville, not Philadelphia, she received no score points.

 16. Between 1969 when Ms. Gurmankin obtained her certificate to teach from the Pennsylvania Department of Education until 1974, 958 secondary school English teachers were hired by the School District of Philadelphia. By July 17, 1975, 92 additional teachers were hired from the 1974 examination.

 17. The Philadelphia School District has no blind teachers teaching sighted students. Any visually handicapped teachers employed by the school district teach only visually handicapped children at the Logan School. Three such teachers were employed at Logan School in 1975.

 18. At a national level, almost no blind teachers were employed in public schools prior to 1960. At the present time, there are over 400 such teachers, although many of these are in states such as California and New ...


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