Often, Charter School operators believe that because they are not considered a political subdivision of the State, as school districts are, that they do not have to comply with the federal and state laws pertaining to the discipline of students with disabilities. This is simply incorrect. Charter schools are required to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Arizona state laws and rules when it comes to the discipline of students with disabilities.
Unfortunately, it seems that charter schools are suspending students with disabilities at a higher rate than their traditional public school counterparts. In March 2016, a study was completed by The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles that analyzed discipline records for almost 5,000 charter schools across the United States. The study’s findings are based on an analysis of data collected from the nation’s 95,000 schools by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for the 2011-2012 school year. What was found was concerning: there were significant disparities found amongst the schools when it came to suspending students with disabilities.
The study determined that 15.5 percent of students with disabilities at charter schools were suspended compared to 13.7 percent of students with disabilities at traditional public schools. The most shocking statistic was that 235 charter schools were found to have suspended more than 50% of students with disabilities enrolled at the school. Although the data seems daunting, it is important to note that the study did not account for the fact that charter schools generally enroll fewer students with disabilities than traditional public schools.
So how can charter schools begin to reverse this trend and lower the percentage of students with disabilities that are suspended? Eliminating “zero tolerance” policies for discipline and the creation of “alternative to suspension” programs are two examples of what could be done to reduce the suspension rate and prevent civil rights complaints. Changes are even more critical now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind, has been passed. ESSA has added several provisions addressing school discipline. One such provision requires that every state review its schools and districts for the “overuse of suspension.” Charter schools would be wise to review their suspension rates and implement changes now that ESSA includes a requirement for states to monitor schools’ use of suspension.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding Discipline of Students with Disabilities in Charter Schools, or any other education law matters, please feel free to contact480.461.5300, log on to www.udallshumway.com, or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.
 Full document of the study is available at: http://civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/resources/projects/center-for-civil-rights-remedies/school-to-prison-folder/federal-reports/charter-schools-civil-rights-and-school-discipline-a-comprehensive-review/losen-et-al-charter-school-discipline-review-2016.pdf
 Section 1111(g) of ESSA says that the state plan “shall describe…(C) how the State educational agency will support local educational agencies receiving assistance under this part to improve school conditions for student learning, including through reducing-…(ii) the overuse of discipline practices that remove students from the classroom….”