Response to Article: Charter Schools May Affect Quality of Education for Disabled Students

June 20, 2014

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Read CCSA's response to the California Health Report's Charter Schools May Affect Quality of Education for Disabled Students.

It is often stated that charter schools do not serve the same population of students with unique learning needs - such as students with disabilities - as their traditional public school counterparts. While it is true that the special education demographic in charter schools may differ from that of traditional public schools, charter schools understand their responsibility to serve all students and are committed to serving students with exceptional needs. In fact, because charter schools are designed to offer innovative educational strategies, they are uniquely situated to provide individualized support to meet the needs of students with disabilities and other unique challenges.

Some schools operate as a "school of the district" for special education, in which case the district, not the charter school, bears the full responsibility for placement decisions for students. It is often misunderstood that, in California there are structural barriers that prevent charter schools from developing special education programs on their sites.

However, some districts such as the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have also been very progressive in helping charters overcome those barriers. In 2010-11, the LAUSD Board voted to reorganize the Special Education Local Plan Area and allow charter schools in LAUSD to gain more autonomy, flexibility, and responsibility for special education creating a continuum of options for charter schools--from true "schools of the district arrangement" (Option 1) to semi-autonomous (Option 3) for special education. Charter schools in Option 3 are serving a much higher share of students with more severe disabilities because those structural barriers have been removed.

Additionally, a recent study of New York charter schools, Why the Gap? Special Education and New York City Charter Schools, states the following: "...the results do not suggest that charter schools are refusing to admit or are pushing out students with special needs. In fact, more students with previously identified disabilities enter charter schools than exit them as they progress through elementary grade levels." It also finds that "charter schools are less likely than district schools to classify students as in need of special education services and more likely to declassify them."

Gina Plate, Senior Advisor for Special Education California Charter Schools Association