by Jessica Nguyen, Esq.
From 1999 to 2012, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools has increased from 300,000 students to 2.1 million students. In Philadelphia, although some 131,000 students are enrolled in traditional public schools, about 55,000 students attend one of the 86 charter schools in the city. Many of these students who attend charter schools are students with disabilities.
On May 14, 2014, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to remind charter school administrators that the federal civil rights laws, regulations, and guidance that apply to public schools also apply to charter schools. Federal laws that were highlighted in that letter include, among others, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, or national origin); Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (prohibiting discrimination based on sex); and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (prohibiting discrimination based on disability). The charter schools’ obligations under these federal civil rights laws are independent of their obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), which also applies fully to charter schools as it does to traditional public schools. You can access that letter here.
Parents of students with disabilities who attend charter schools should be aware that they retain the same federal rights as students who attend traditional public schools. Below is a non-exhaustive list of obligations under federal civil rights laws that apply to charter schools:
- Charter schools may not use admissions criteria that have the effect of excluding students on the basis of race, color, national origin, or disability.
- Charter schools must provide a free, appropriate public education (“FAPE”) to every student identified with a disability under IDEA and who requires specially designed instruction (“SDI”), including conducting evaluations and providing regular or special education and related services that are designed to meet his/her individual education needs.
- Charter schools may not ask or require a student identified with a disability and requires SDI or his/her parents to waive FAPE in order to attend the charter school.
- Charter schools must provide students with disabilities the opportunity to participate in nonacademic and extracurricular activities.
- Charter schools must take affirmative steps to help English-language learners overcome language barriers so that they may participate in their schools’ educational programs.
- Charter schools are obligated to address discipline for students with disabilities in the same fashion as public schools.
OCR and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (“OSERS”) plan to issue a joint guidance regarding the specific rights of students with disabilities who attend charter schools.
If your child attends a charter school and you have questions about his or her rights, please see our website, www.mcandrewslaw.com, for more information, or call our office for a free consultation.