What, Why and How: Policies and Practices for Charter Schools To Help Reduce Legal Liabilities – Part 2

Often, Charter Schools are faced with situations involving students with disabilities where their policies and practices are challenged.  If your school doesn’t have the proper policies and practices for charter schools in effect, it can result in liability and increased costs for the school.  Ensuring your school has the proper policies and practices in place to address students with disabilities can keep your school out of hot water.

Some of the policies and practices discussed in this series are required and others are just “best practice.”   However, even if not required by federal or state law, having policies in the “hot button” areas can assist your school when parents, students, and/or members of the public present with problematic behaviors.

This article is the second part of a series and will address policies and practices regarding visitor conduct on school property, service animals in the school and enrollment capacity.  The first part of the series can be found at https://www.udallshumway.com/blog/mesa-az-policies-practices-charter-schools/.

Visitor Conduct on School Property

a. Why do schools need policies in this area?

Because it is best practice.   Many times, charter schools are faced with parents and/or other members of the public who demonstrate inappropriate behavior while on the school campus.  Having a policy that outlines the expectations for members of the public’s conduct while on campus can assist the school in setting boundaries when necessary.  Without such a policy, it may be difficult to enforce a restriction against a parent or another member of the public without the restriction appearing to be arbitrary and/or discriminatory.

b. How should a policy be written?

The policy should reference who the general public is, i.e., anyone who is not a faculty/staff member or student.  The policy should clearly define your school’s procedure for entering the campus and the expectations visitors while on campus.  Arizona law also contains provisions for the treatment of school personnel under the criminal statutes and the policy should reference those parts of the law and the applicability to school settings; as well as the consequences for violating the statutes.

Service Animals in Schools

a. Why do schools need policies in this area?

Because it is best practice.  Neither the IDEA nor Section 504 specifically address whether students with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by services animals on school grounds.  However, the 2010 amendments to the Title II regulations implementing the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) clarify some of the requirements for service animals.

The definition of a service animal under the ADA is, “[A]ny dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”  However, Title II also requires public entities to permit the use of a miniature horse by an individual with a disability if the miniature horse has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the individual’s benefit. (28 CFR 35.136(i)(1)).

Title II of the ADA requires that schools make reasonable modification in policies, practices, or procedures to allow service animals when necessary.  To refuse to allow a student to have a service animal or to refuse a student’s enrollment because of a service animal would be considered discrimination on the basis of disability.  Although law allows schools to refuse to admit a service animal when there is a direct threat to the health and/or safety of others, fear of dogs and/or allergies to dogs are not valid reasons under which schools can deny a student’s service animal.

Having a policy in place that outlines the school’s obligation in allowing service animals on campus is best practice in an effort provide notice to your parents regarding the school’s obligation.  Having a policy in place can also help defend against complaints that the school acted in a discriminatory or arbitrary manner toward a student.                      

b. How should a policy be written?

Any procedure which is implemented should outline in detail what is considered a service animal and what is not, when the school may lawfully prohibit a service animal from coming to school with a student and the process for requesting that a student be allowed to bring service animal.  The policy should also outline the requirements for how the animal should be handled while at school.

Enrollment Capacity

a. Why do schools need policies in this area?

Because it is best practice and State law allows charters to set capacities for students.  Charter schools operate on an open enrollment basis.  However, that does not mean that schools are required to hire additional staff to serve for all the students that should apply for enrollment.  Arizona state law, at A.R.S. 15-184, allows charter schools to refuse to admit students when the number of applications exceeds the capacity of a program, class, grade level or building.  By having a capacity policy in effect, the school is in a better position to refuse to admit a student if capacity has been met.  This is especially important when it comes to students with disabilities, as they often require the assistance of multiple staff members and programs.

Without a capacity policy that is provided to students who seek to enroll, it could seem arbitrary and/or discriminatory if a student was refused admission and/or placed on a waiting list; especially when he/she is a student with a disability.

b. How should a policy be written?

The school’s capacity policy should clearly state that the school does not discriminate in its admissions or enrollment practices on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, income level, disability, English proficiency, or athletic ability.  The policy should state that capacity for each program, class, and grade level is reviewed on an annual basis based on enrollment projections.  Each grade level should have a capacity, as well as any special programs, including special education resource and/or self-contained programs.

You should ensure that for the special education programs, you leave enough flexibility to allow for those students who may be identified and placed throughout the school year.  For example, you could have language in the policy as follows for an enrollment capacity of 1:10 for a resource room:

For special education programs, the 1:10 (resource) teacher to student ratio will be applied so that the teacher will not be providing services to more than 10 (resource) students in any given hour of the school day.  For enrollment purposes, no new applications will be considered for special education programs once resource programs contain 8 students for every one resource-teacher during any given hour of the school day.  Capacity will be set at these levels to ensure that adequate programming capacity is reserved for current [SCHOOL NAME] students who may be located, identified, and made eligible for these programs.

 

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 Policies and Practices for Charter Schools,  or any other education law matters, please feel free to contact Education Law Attorney, Kimberly R. Davis at 480.461.5387, 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.