Thursday, May 15, 2014

OCR Reiterates That Charter Schools Are Subject to the Same Federal Laws As Traditional Public Schools

Yesterday, the Office for Civil Rights released guidance, stressing that charters are subject to the various statutes that OCR enforces.  The fact that OCR needed to reiterate the status of charters vis-a-vis federal education statutea is troubling in itself.  The question of whether federal statutes apply to charters was never in legitimate dispute.  Most federal education statutes apply to schools not because they are public, but because they receive federal funds.  Since charters receive federal funds, they must comply with various anti-discrimination statutes and affirmative education obligations like anyone else, private or public.    Credit goes to OCR, nonetheless, for reiterating these points.

Constitutional analysis has proven slightly more tricky.  As noted last summer, some courts have been willing to exempt charters from certain due process obligations, reasoning, for instance, that dismissal from a charter school does not deprive a student of the right to education because the student can return to his traditional public school.  I argued that those courts' analysis is seriously flawed, but, of course, it is their opinion that counts.

OCR's dear colleague letter and a link to its new guidance follow below.

Dear Colleague:

The U.S. Department of Education supports charter schools’ efforts to provide students, including those in some of the nation’s highest-need communities, with additional meaningful opportunities to receive a high-quality public education. Today, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights has released new guidance (versión en español) providing a reminder that our federal civil rights laws apply to charter schools just as they apply to other public schools. 

The guidance explains that the federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in education on the basis of race, color, and national origin; sex; and disability extend to all operations of a charter school, including recruiting, admissions, academics, educational services and testing, school climate (including prevention of harassment), disciplinary measures (including suspensions and expulsions), athletics and other nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, and accessible buildings and technology.

We hope that the guidance issued today will help enhance the role charter schools can play in advancing equal opportunity for all students. Our office stands ready to provide technical assistance should you or your colleagues need it.

Thank you,

The Office for Civil Rights

Charters and Vouchers | Permalink


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