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Feds Warn Charters On Special Education

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Charter schools must provide special education services and ensure that students with disabilities are not discriminated against just like traditional public schools, federal education officials say.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter issued Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Education said that charters have the same obligations as regular public schools to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in addition to other federal civil rights laws. Such responsibilities are the same whether or not charters receive federal funding, the Education Department guidance indicates.

Specifically, students with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate public education and should not be discriminated against in the admissions process or in regard to discipline. Charters must also provide related services to students with disabilities and guarantee that such children have “equal opportunity” to participate in extracurricular activities, the guidance said.

“Every student with a disability enrolled in a public school, including a public charter school, must be provided a free appropriate public education — that is, regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet his or her individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met,” wrote Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, in the letter.

Parents with disabilities must also be accommodated by charters if they need a sign-language interpreter or materials written in Braille, for example, in order to communicate with school officials, Lhamon said.

Beyond civil rights laws, charters have obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, federal officials said. Lhamon indicated that her office is working with the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services to develop guidance addressing the rights of students with disabilities who are attending charters and their parents.

Even as they serve an increasing number of students across the country, charter schools have faced criticism for failing to adequately include those with disabilities. A 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office found that children with disabilities accounted for 8 percent of those enrolled in charters compared to 11 percent of students in public schools.

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Comments (10 Responses)

  1. quasilyon says:

    It’s about time. The charter schools have been side stepping this issue for years without retribution.
    I know. My child was removed from a charter school because for two years (despite promises, promises), the school never provided any type of services.

  2. marjorie waite says:

    What about private schools? Don’t they have a moral responsibility to include handicapped students? Is there any consideration being given on a legislative level? MW

  3. JDem says:

    Not the charters in AZ… I read some research recently that said spec ed kids fare better in charters in AZ than in reg public schools. We have really good charters here.

  4. Melinda Heppe says:

    My son, who is legaly blind, attends Gillingham charter School in Pottsville PA, which has one of the highest percentages of students with IEPs in our county, and has been cited by the state for parent satisfactin with the special ed program. Not only does my son’s IEP get followed to the letter, the spirit is positive too. I’m sure there are xharter schools with problems in this area, but I know very well that there are “regular” public schols that are disasters in this area. Dpnt tar us all with one brush, please.

  5. dancemom says:

    As a public school teacher, I so agree with this, but realize it will not happen. I had a 3rd grader on a 2nd retention (because our state now retains 3rd graders who don’t pass the state reading test). His 2nd grade sister was in a local charter school, but he and his 1st grade sister (who was also reading well below grade level) were not because ‘they couldn’t give us the help we needed’. We also teach (usually at mid-year enrollments) those with behavior issues because the charter schools kick them out. We rise to the challenge – too bad charter schools don’t realize those challenges are what teaching is all about.

  6. holly says:

    For gods sake. you can’t even get the public schools to do anything but babysit especially in their separate but equal school. No one enforces anything so blah blah blah. With the discrimination I have had to deal with regarding my black severely handicapped adopted daughter in the state of Michigan especially West Michigan its all laughable. The jokes on us. All of these right wing people do not want birth control but when it comes to actually taking care of who is here with a fair education and quality of life they just as soon put a pillow over the disabled. Out of sight is out of mind.

  7. Elaine says:

    Agree that charters should be held to same accountability for special education students as a district. How will equitable distribution of special education students to charter school be regulated so that charters (which have less fiscal resources) will not be inundated with special service provisions, and large numbers of special education students; without properly funded resources to address those needs? Wouldn’t this create more problems that charters would be faced to serve special education students with inadequate resources and inadequate educational experiences, defeating the very purpose of a free and appropriate education (FAPE)?.

  8. Jill Nico says:

    I would like to see the research that says children with disabilities fare better in charters in Arizona. What does “fare better” mean? I would say my son improved socially and developmentally, but not necessarily academically at his charter school. But, he would not have “fared” at all, if we had not fought vigorously with the school for 5 years through procedural safeguards and advocacy to keep him included with his peers.

  9. Michael Bruce says:

    It’s about time! Now that the playing field is about to be leveled, let’s see how successful those who think charter schools and the vouchers are the anwers, fair in the teaching of all kids.

  10. LynneT says:

    In the past the intermediate school districts that provide special education services in Michigan (and equivalents in other states) have been very resistant to supporting charters. That has been changing, but there is still a problematic culture, I think.

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