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WILMINGTON, Del. — The American Civil Liberties Union and the Community Legal Aid Society today filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights charging that Delaware’s charter school law and policies have a discriminatory impact on students of color and students with disabilities, and have significantly contributed to the resegregation of Delaware’s public schools.
The groups say the state, through the Department of Education, and the Red Clay Consolidated School District — the two entities that authorize public charter schools in the state — are in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
"Charter schools have been granted broad authority in their admissions processes. They get to choose which students can attend, rather than giving parents a true choice. The result is that students of color and students with disabilities are not getting an equal chance to attend many of the high-performing charter schools. For students of color who do attend charter schools, most attend racially segregated schools," said Courtney Bowie, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Racial Justice Program.
More than three-quarters of charter schools operating in Delaware are racially identifiable, according to the complaint. High-performing charter schools are almost entirely racially identifiable as white. Low-income students and students with disabilities are disproportionately relegated to failing charter schools and charter schools that are racially identifiable as African American or Hispanic, none of which are high performing. Another result of the proliferation of charter schools is increased segregation in traditional public schools located in districts where charter schools operate.
"Every student in Delaware deserves equal access to a high-quality education," said Kathleen MacRae, executive director of the ACLU of Delaware. "But what has evolved since the passage of the Charter School Act of 1995 is state-sanctioned preferential treatment for families who are able to navigate the special requirements of charter school admissions."
These requirements include high examination scores, essays written by parents to explain why a school is a good choice for their child, access to gifted and talented elementary and middle school programs that help increase academic performance, annual activities fees, mandatory parent involvement, and mandatory high-cost uniform purchases. Such barriers prevent students from low-income African American and Hispanic families from having the same access to high quality charter schools that middle and upper class families have.
"We hope that the Office of Civil Rights recognizes that any system of selection that has the effect of almost completely excluding children with disabilities from the 'high-achieving' charter schools is deeply disturbing and must constitute illegal discrimination," says Dan Atkins, legal advocacy director of the Disabilities Law Program of Community Legal Aid Society.
He adds, "It's terribly unfair to the children with disabilities who should have earned their place in those schools, and it sends a harmful and hurtful message, really to everyone, to continue to shut those students out. We look forward to working with the federal government, the state of Delaware, and Red Clay Consolidated School District to develop criteria that integrate more students with disabilities. This is consistent with the state and federal government’s mission to provide equal educational opportunities to all children — regardless of race, income, and disability.”
The ACLU and Community Legal Aid Society are calling for:
- A moratorium on the authorization and opening of new charter schools until an effective desegregation plan has been implemented.
- Utilization of a random opt-out lottery for charter school admissions.
- Assurance that the cost of attending a public charter school is free and that parents are not required or pressured to purchase uniforms or raise money for the school.
- Capping class size in traditional public schools at the same level as charter schools and ensuring that total funding for traditional public schools is equal to that of charter schools.
- Providing additional funding to schools with a disproportionately high number of students of color, students with special needs and low-income students.
A plan to ensure that students with disabilities are recruited and reasonably accommodated in all charter schools.
More information is at: https://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/aclu-challenges-delawares-segregated-charter-schools