Recently, there has been a debate on whether charter schools are inclusive when it comes to enrolling students with disabilities. There are laws and policies in place to protect these students, but in some instances, schools are still not accommodating. Dive into the statistics of charter schools enrolling children with disabilities and the rights in place to protect these students.
ARE CHARTER SCHOOLS INCLUSIVE?
Compared to other states, Louisiana has a smaller gap between charter and traditional schools in terms of special education enrollment.
According to the Regional Education Laboratory report done in 2018, “The special education enrollment gap nationally between charter and traditional schools was estimated to be 3 percent points in 2009-10, with 8 percent of students in charter schools and 11 percent of students in traditional schools having an individualized education program.”
The same report states that in Louisiana, “the gap was 2 percentage points in 2010-11, with 12 percent of enrollees in charter schools having an individualized education program compared with 14 percent of students in traditional schools.”
Based on the data, Louisiana has a smaller gap compared to the average, yet there is still room for improvement. The Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) conducted a Performance Audit in 2017, which found there were complaints filed in the academic school years 2013-14 through 2016-2017 because of issues with the special education services at certain schools.
“There were 47 complaints regarding special education services, including multiple complaints about children not actually receiving recommended special education services,” states the audit.
It can be difficult to find a charter school that has the proper resources and adequate disability services. Something to keep in mind is that federal, state, and local funding covers the costs of educational services for students with disabilities.
“Funds are allocated to school systems based on the number of students they serve and they receive additional funding for each student identified with a disability regardless of the level of severity of the student’s disability,” states the Louisiana
Developmental Disabilities Council. “School systems with unnaturally high percentages of students with more severe disabilities may have inadequate funding because of changes in the education system that do not maintain equitable distributions of students across disability severity levels while redistributing the funding levels.”
LAWS IN PLACE TO PROTECT THESE STUDENTS
Based on the data above, Louisiana charter schools are more inclusive than other states like Texas, Idaho, and Colorado, which have the lowest rates of enrollment in charter schools for students with disabilities.
Yet, there is still room for improvement, and parents need to know what laws are in place to protect their students with a disability. Here are three laws to keep in mind.
1. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA ensures all U.S. children have a free and appropriate education regardless of their disability status.
According to Louisiana Believes, the department completes an IDEA grant application each year, which sets aside funds for specified activities for students with disabilities. These funds are passed directly to the school systems to ensure that these students receive a free and appropriate education.
2. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. This protects individuals from discrimination based on their disability.
“Charter schools in Louisiana are prohibited from implementing enrollment policies or procedures that discriminate against students with disabilities,” says Louisiana Believes.
3. Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP was implemented to ensure that a child with a disability attending elementary and secondary school receives specialized instruction and related services.
“The IEP team is comprised of educators, the student’s parents, and other key individuals as needed. The IEP defines the special education and related services a student will receive, as well the goals that he/she will work towards, and the environment(s) in which the services will be delivered,” says Louisiana Believes.
If a student with a disability is not receiving a quality education or being treated fairly at a public or charter school, the first step is to speak with the teacher or special education department. If the mistreatment continues, parents can file a complaint with either the LDE or the state.
Whether a parent has a question about a particular law or is looking to file a complaint, there are organizations that can help. Groups like Disability Rights Louisiana and Exceptional Lives provide resources, information, and support to children and adults with disabilities.