Special ed questions on charter school apps violate federal law complaints allege

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Chalkbeat Colorado article by Erica Meltzer https://co.chalkbeat.org/2021/10/5/22711758/colorado-charter-schools-dis...

Advocates have filed civil rights complaints against more than two dozen Colorado charter schools alleging that questions on their application forms about whether prospective students receive special education services violate federal law. Emily Harvey, education team leader and an attorney with Disability Law Colorado, which brought the complaints, said the law firm is seeking applications from more Colorado charter schools that may ask similar questions.

“We’ve had situations where siblings apply and one sibling has a disability and another doesn’t, and one is extended an enrollment opportunity and another isn’t. We can’t say for sure that was why the charter school didn’t accept them, but it’s happened often enough that we wonder if it is the screening process.” Harvey said.

Colorado charter schools enroll students with disabilities at a lower rate than the state average — and at a lower rate than charter schools in most other states, according to a study by the Center for Learner Equity. The study, commissioned last year by the Colorado Department of Education’s Schools of Choice Unit, identified such screening questions as one reason for the lower enrollment. Even when schools don’t use the question to screen out prospective students, advocates fear parents will be deterred. They might think a school isn’t prepared to serve their child — or doesn’t want to.

The state has convened a working group to improve charter school practices and propose rule changes, but it hasn’t mandated any changes yet. The complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights identify 29 Colorado charter schools that ask a question about disability status in their application. The federal office has opened investigations into all of them.



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