In a “dear colleague” letter, Catherine Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, wrote to remind charter schools that Federal civil rights laws, regulations, and guidance apply just as they do to traditional public schools.
Lhamon encouraged all charter school officials and staff to know and understand Federal civil rights laws, such as 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 and Title II of the Americans with disabilities Act of 1990 (prohibiting discrimination based on disability).
Highlighted in her letter were key areas for charter schools, including:
- Non-discrimination in admissions
- Free appropriate public education for students with disabilities
- Affirmative steps for English-language learners
- Nondiscrimination in discipline
Importantly, Lhamon notes that more information on the rights of students with disabilities in charter schools will be provided in joint guidance by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
While CEC supports the notion that public charter schools may be an approach to education reform, we’ve reported significant concerns that students with disabilities are underrepresented in charter schools. Legislation passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month included key CEC recommendations to strengthen requirements for charter schools in addressing the needs of students with disabilities, many of which align directly to CEC’s Policy on Children with Exceptionalities in Charter Schools.
Currently, 42 states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws which oversee 6,004 charter schools serving approximately 2.3 million students in 2012-2013.