A Florida news station has heard from the state's department of education exactly how charter schools can discriminate against students with special needs.
Part of the charter sales pitch has always been a claim that charters offer alternatives to all students. Just look at this happy blurb from the National Alliance for Public [sic] Charter Schools:
The answer to “Can charter schools deny students?” is a beautiful-sounding “no.” Charter schools are free, public, and open to all students.
It may sound beautiful, but the reality is less lovely.
This is normal, natural--even necessary- business behavior. And charter schools are businesses.
So charters have found ways to control their customer base. An involved application process. Just kind of ghosting applicants with special needs. Some charters just flat out deny admission to special needs students. Texas has a loophole law saying that charters can deny any students who have had disciplinary referrals ever for anything. And in area after area, we find that charters, somehow, end up serving fewer of the high cost special needs students.
Theoretically this is mostly illegal in most states. But a law only counts if somebody enforces it, and Florida has never shown any inclination to punish charter schools for anything ever.
ActionNewsJax is a Fox and CBS affiliate in Florida (someone has to tell me how that works some time) that has been following up on the story of charters denying autistic students. They determined that A) it happens and B) the state department of education is okay with that.
It’s against the law for public schools and charter schools to turn away students because of special needs.
However, Action News Jax learned there’s a catch.
The Florida Department of Education said it’s not discriminatory for charters to suggest a different school that would better serve a student with disabilities.
And as far as that beautiful-sounding no goes, that idea that a charter must welcome any student...
FLDOE spokesperson Cheryl Etters said every school can’t serve every child and what matters is that the student thrives academically.
“Just like traditional public schools, each charter school has different resources and may not have the ability to meet the demands of a student with specific disabilities,” Etters said via email.
Just like a traditional public school? I think Ms. Etters is a bit confused, because if a public school doesn't have the resources they are required to by-God find those resources and not just wave the student away with a "You should go look for an education somewhere else."
I mean, this is not so much a loophole as an unraveling of the law. A charter operator could get rid of any student they wanted to deny simply by saying, "We would require your child to be tied up in a gunny sack all day and their special education instruction would be delivered by the school janitor once a week." This is a license to scare away anyone, permission to discriminate at will.