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Several laws govern special education, including The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Continue reading for an overview of charter schools and special education, or browse even more resources in the Library

Providing Services to Students

As public schools, charter schools are required to enroll and serve students with disabilities in the same manner as traditional public schools. The process for addressing special education at the school level is the same for all charter schools, regardless whether the charter school opts to be an LEA for the purposes of special education or a school of the district, or if the school is an independent study and non-classroom-based school. Note that when a disagreement arises regarding a child's special education, either the parent or the LEA (a usually the school district or charter school) may request a Due Process hearing to resolve the dispute.

Special Education Options for Charter Schools

As public schools, charter schools are required to enroll and serve students with disabilities and special education needs. For purposes of providing special education services under the IDEA, charter schools must be a member of a Special Education Local Planning Area (SELPA). California law provides charter schools with two options for doing so:

  • Be default, all charter schools operate as schools of their authorizing school district ("schools of the district") and participate in the SELPA in which their authorizer is a member
  • Charter schools may also choose to join a SELPA independently of their authorizer, in which case they are deemed to be an independent Local Educational Agency (LEA) for special education purposes

Schools authorized by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have additional options available to them due to the recent reorganization of the LAUSD SELPA.

Exercising Autonomy to Better Serve Students

The first step in deciding which option is right for you is to carefully review the special education options available to charter schools, and evaluate your individual school's special education needs.

After reviewing the criteria and best practices for charter schools, some schools may decide that seeking LEA status and membership in a new SELPA is the best route. Schools should then consult CCSA guidance and resources on:

Benefits of a Special Education Consortium

Regardless of the scope of a charter school's existing special education program, or whether it operates as a school of its authorizer or a local educational agency (LEA) for special education purposes, any school can benefit from participating in a consortium or regional Joint Powers Authority (JPA).

By participating in a special education consortium, charter schools across the state have been able to:

  • expand service options for students with unique needs,
  • improve outcomes for all students on their campus, and
  • increase their autonomy over special education.

Examples of successful special education consortiums include:

Forming a JPA involves a number of steps, but CCSA resources and Special Education Staff are available to provide guidance to schools interested in forming or joining a special education JPA in their region.

For School Developers

Starting a school? Learn about creating a sound special education policy for your petition, and take advantage of CCSA's sample petition language.