Charter Schools and Federal Civil Rights Law

Posted on: October 17th, 2014

school children

Charter schools are subject to the same federal civil rights laws that apply to traditional public schools. The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) published a Dear Colleague Letter dated May 14, 2014 as a reminder to charter schools of their obligations under federal law. Some of the highlights of the Dear Colleague Letter are mentioned below.

  • Charter schools may not discriminate in admissions on the basis of race, color, national origin or disability.
  •  Charter school parents who are not proficient in English must receive meaningful access to the same admissions information provided to English-proficient parents. Eligibility criteria for admissions must be nondiscriminatory. Charter schools in a district subject to a desegregation plan must be operated consistent with the desegregation plan.
  •  Charter schools may not discriminate on the basis of disability.
  •  If a charter school wishes to promote racial diversity, it may pursue a variety of approaches in admissions, recruiting, school location, attendance boundaries. See further guidance from OCR in the Dear Colleague Letter to avoid running afoul of the law.
  •  Every student in a charter school with a disability must be provided a free appropriate public education and both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act must be adhered to.
  •  Charter schools must take affirmative steps to help English-language learners to overcome language barriers by offering timely identification and providing effective language instruction.
  •  Charter schools, like all public schools, are obligated to avoid and redress discrimination in the administration of school discipline on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability and sex.

The list above is not an exhaustive list of legal requirements that apply to charter schools, but is a summary of important points contained in the Dear Colleague Letter. OCR offers technical assistance to schools that seek help in adhering to federal civil rights laws. The purpose of this blog is to provide information. It is neither legal advice nor is it an advertisement for legal services.  Please consult legal counsel for legal advice regarding charter schools.   Thanks for reading! – Debra

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