Playing by the Same Rules:
Discipline of Charter School Students with Disabilities
By Caitlin McAndrews, Esq.
McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.
Earlier this year, the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project published a report entitled, “Charter Schools, Civil Rights and School Discipline: A Comprehensive Review.” The authors reviewed comprehensive data on charter school discipline practices, and their findings included a determination that charter schools, on the whole, disciplined students with disabilities at higher rates than their non-disabled peers.
Many parents of children with disabilities seek out charter schools as a public alternative to their local school district. Parents of charter school students should keep in mind that charter schools must adhere to the same state and federal laws about educating children with disabilities, including the discipline protections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”).
The following are potential red flags for parents of charter school students to watch out for which can be signs that the rights of a child with a disability have been violated:
- A charter school asking a student with disabilities to dis-enroll from the charter or face expulsion. Sometimes charter schools will do this under the auspices of preserving the student’s record; however, it can sometimes be a way for the school to avoid conducting a manifestation determination review or to “counsel out a student” whose behaviors are a manifestation of his or her disability.
- Statements by charter school personnel that “we don’t have to follow the same rules as public schools.” Charter schools do, in fact, have to follow the law, and in the case of children with disabilities, charter schools must follow the IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 504”). This includes holding a manifestation determination review when a student with disabilities is removed from school for more than ten days in the same school year and not disciplining a child for manifestations of his or her disability.
- Claims that charter schools do not have to follow a 504 Plan or IEP because they have a zero tolerance policy. Setting aside the general education implications of zero tolerance policies, parents of charter school students with disabilities should know that IDEA discipline protections trump the charter school’s discipline policy – no matter what its level of “tolerance.”
- Statements by charter school personnel that “we don’t offer that service here.” Charter schools, like public school districts, have to provide those services that a child with disabilities needs to receive a free, appropriate public education, and if the charter school does not have a service the child needs, the school must find a placement for the student with disabilities that can meet his or her needs.
No matter where your child with a disability attends school, parents should remain alert and engaged in the education process both for the general benefit of their child’s development but also to ensure that his or her rights are respected. If you are concerned that your charter school student’s rights have been violated, call our office for a free consultation.