Over the past several years, more and more students are enrolling in charter schools. This has brought up many complex legal issues that parents are forced to navigate through, especially when their child requires special education supports and services. In a nutshell, charter schools are considered to be their own Local Educational Agency (LEA). An LEA is a common way to refer to a school district. Since charter schools are considered to be their own LEA, they are responsible for providing their students with appropriate supports and services as required under federal and state law. In fact, charter schools cannot deny admission to students on the basis of disability. Charter schools are also required to seek and find children with known or suspected disabilities and to conduct comprehensive assessments upon them so that their unique needs are appropriately addressed, and they are properly identified as a student requiring an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
In general, charter schools are required to comply with all special education laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), state law and Section 504 to name a few, to provide students with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Further, they have an affirmative obligation to serve students with disabilities, just like any other public school. The mere fact that they are a charter school, does not relieve them of their obligation to provide appropriate special education supports and services to their students.
If a charter school doesn't have an appropriate program and services available to meet a particular student's educational needs, they still must comply with the law and cannot refuse to provide the student with an appropriate education because they don't have the staffing or infrastructure. It is also important to note that charter schools are not permitted to force students to seek placement elsewhere, even if the charter school doesn't have an appropriate program that can provide FAPE to that student. In a recent case our office handled, a charter school didn't have an appropriate program for our client to receive a FAPE. Ultimately, they were required to find another program for the Student outside of the charter and fund the program in its entirety.
If your child is attending a charter school and you have concerns regarding the appropriateness of their program and whether they are receiving a FAPE, you may have other options that the charter school is responsible for including additional services and even an alternative placement.
Danielle Augustin is a founding partner of Augustin Egelsee LLP, a law firm representing children and families with special education needs. Danielle has been practicing law for 20 years, first as a deputy district attorney in Orange County, California, then as a special education student attorney for the past 15 years. For more information about special education law, go to: www.OcKidsLaw.com or call 714-282-1242.