Special Education

Are L.A. Charter Schools Screening Out Special Ed. Students?

By Nirvi Shah — June 15, 2011 1 min read
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A new report from the Office of the Independent Monitor in the Los Angeles school district looks at whether charter schools ask parents up front—before they can enroll—if their children have disabilities.

Earlier this year, I wrote that in traditional Los Angeles public schools, about 13 percent of students have a disability, while in the district’s 183 charter schools, only about 8 percent of students have special needs.

The district is working to balance those numbers, in part because so many schools in Los Angeles are charters that for many students, the only schools they live near are charter schools.

While traditional district schools are hard-pressed to turn anyone away, or must find a way to educate students regardless of cost or hardship, charters appear to be using a vetting process that may explain the stark difference in the percentages of students with disabilities enrolled in their schools versus district-run schools.

Looking at applications from 178 of L.A. Unified’s 183 charters, the independent monitor found that about half ask whether a child received special education services or has an Individualized Education Plan. Many of those, in turn, requested a copy of the IEP.

As I still have much to learn about special education, I wonder, may anyone view a child’s IEP? How private are these documents?

Some schools asked questions about students’ discipline history, asked parents and children to write essays, or required a recommendation from a child’s current teacher.

While the Independent Monitor’s office didn’t draw any conclusions about these requests, they did say some of the enrollment-form questions were “areas of concern.”

Some charters asked about a child’s custody, his or her Social Security number, parents’ education level, whether a child received free or reduced-price meals, or when a child first enrolled in an American school.

In addition, the report noted concern about how in some cases, parents had to agree that if their child received special education services they would only be able to continue to receive such services in a full-inclusion program. My question to those of you who are experts on a free, appropriate public education as outlined in IDEA: Is offering only one potential setting for a child with disabilities OK?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.