ACLU: California Charter Schools Provide ‘Unequal Access’

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and nonprofit law firm Public Advocates has found public, written policies of charter schools in the state of California to show that students at these schools are illegally prevented from enrolling or staying at their schools.

The report, "Unequal Access: How Some California Charter Schools Illegally Restrict Enrollment," found that of the close to 1,200 charter schools in the state, at least 253, or over 20% of charter schools throughout California, have exclusionary policies.

The authors state that these policies have been found to exclude students because they do not allow students who do not have strong test scores or grades to enroll; they expel students who do not maintain a certain grade point average; they do not allow students learning to speak English to enroll; they choose to enroll students based on pre-enrollment requirements such as interviews and essays; they discourage immigrant students from enrolling by requiring citizenship information to be given; and some have been found to refuse to enroll students unless their parents volunteer or donate money.

The report is pushing for the California Department of Education to issue guidance in order to ensure that the practices discussed throughout the report are known to be illegal. In addition, the authors would like to see those charter schools participating in illegal practices to be ordered by the DOE to change their policies, and immediately notify parents, guardians and students of such changes.

The recommendations continue to ask charter school operators and charter-authorizing entities to take a closer look at charter policies public materials, specifically looking for legal compliance and to make sure schools are using "simple and straightforward admissions procedures." They state that students should understand that residency can be verified through a variety of sources, such as utility bills, tax documents, pay stubs, and lease agreements.

In addition, they say that school websites should state that all students are welcome to enroll, including English language learners, non-US citizens, students with disabilities, low-income students, and those who need extra academic support.

"We urge students and their families to check their local charter schools' policies and advocate for changes when these policies are confusing, discouraging, or illegal. If the school refuses to remedy the problems, families, students and others should file complaints with the schools' authorizers or the county office of education where the school is located. Because charter schools lack a centralized authority, we must all be vigilant in ensuring that they meet their obligations."

The report suggests an annual internal compliance review be completed in order to ensure that all policies fully comply with the Charter Schools Act and Education Code, as well as state and federal civil rights laws.

The authors go on to share their concerns with magnet schools in the state, as many of these schools also make use of barriers to enrollment and exclude students for a number of reasons, including academic performance. They suggest that doing so results in these inequities being larger, as it creates a system where high-performing students receive additional services instead of those who need it the most.

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