To the Editor:
I found the collection of letters to the editor in your Feb. 10, 2010, issue responding to Thomas Hehir’s Commentary “Charters: Students With Disabilities Need Not Apply?” (Jan. 27, 2010) to be significantly one-sided. Arguing that charter schools require more resources and that enforcement of federal special education provisions is not the sole answer makes sense. What the letters mostly ignore, however, is that Mr. Hehir addresses these issues in his essay.
Yes, charter schools should be given appropriate resources to serve all students with disabilities. But with expanded resources come expanded responsibilities. If charters are given the means to educate all students, they need to be held to the same accountability systems as all public schools receiving federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act monies. This means including students with disabilities in standardized-testing programs and providing fair and proactive discipline procedures.
I mention these two areas (testing and discipline) specifically because Mr. Hehir was instrumental in seeing that they were part of the reauthorization of the IDEA in 1997. Specifically, it was mandated that students with disabilities be included in state and district accountability systems. Also, the 1997 version of the IDEA helped support the creation of the Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (www.pbis.org), in conjunction with the requirement that students with disabilities who exhibit challenging behavior be given such supports. Both of these areas are instrumental in ensuring that students with disabilities are educated in an equitable fashion. And, yes, enforcing these requirements is a necessary component of providing resources to districts, schools, and students.
One of the letters also notes that many parents do not send their children with disabilities to charters because they are satisfied with the education their children receive in traditional public schools. It seems logical that if children and their families are guaranteed rights within the public schools, parents would be very unlikely to send their children to charters that may have a reputation for being unable to serve students with disabilities, or that extend harsh or exclusionary punitive measures to students who have difficulties with behavior. Therefore, it may not be the case that parents are satisfied with their children’s regular public schools. Rather, it may mean they know they would not be satisfied with their children’s charter school experiences.
It is important to remember that in his essay, Mr. Hehir is concerned with ensuring that all students, especially students with disabilities, have equal access to educational opportunities. In our current national school reform efforts, this means that the need for equal access to charter schools cannot be overstated.
A version of this article appeared in the March 10, 2010 edition of Education Week as Letters on Charter Essay Overlooked Its Content