When the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools cancelled its monthly meeting “due to no requests for Board consideration,” education advocates and parents like me decided to hold our own public meeting and highlight the issues the board refuses to acknowledge.

On Monday, March 12, my sons and I joined Demand to Learn and stood outside the Arizona Department of Education, planning to present an agenda for public charter school reform and deliver letters demanding immediate changes to the discriminatory policies plaguing more than 100 charter schools. 

We were all in for a rude awakening.

Hostile security guards told our group of advocates, parents, and children that we could not enter the building to deliver the demand letters. While we were peacefully standing outside the building, one security guard announced he was calling Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers. Once DPS officers arrived, we were escorted into the building, told we could not record, and forced to wait in the lobby for a representative to collect the letters. 

For four months, we have invited the Charter Board to fulfill their obligation to serve Arizona students by intervening, regulating, and if necessary, disciplining public charter schools for ubiquitous discriminatory enrollment practices. Instead, we are faced with opposition, willful ignorance, and complete absence from the agency that authorizes and governs the vast majority of Arizona charter schools.  

Arizona charter schools operate independently, but they are part of Arizona’s public education system and use taxpayer funds. They must be open to all students.

The ACLU of Arizona released its report, Schools Choosing Students, three months ago. Why is the Charter Board evading its responsibilities? There have been multiple non-profit organizations and media reports that have shed light on the major flaws in charter school oversight.

Yet, children of color, children with disabilities, and children with special education needs face enrollment barriers to public, taxpayer-funded charter schools. Instead of working alongside each other to develop solutions, we are met with excuses for the Charter Board’s inaction.

Parents and education advocates will no longer wait for the board to take action. We are now going straight to the schools.

The ACLU of Arizona sent demand letters to more than 100 public charter schools addressing unlawful enrollment policies related to special education, student discipline history, and mandatory fees or volunteer hours. Here is a breakdown of the letters:

  • Seven charter schools must eliminate restrictions on the enrollment of students with special education needs;
  • 58 schools must stop unlawfully discouraging enrollment by students who have been disciplined short of expulsion; and
  • 51 schools must stop improperly requiring parents to pay fees or volunteer at the school.

Arizona charter schools operate independently, but they are part of Arizona’s public education system and use taxpayer funds. They must be open to all students. Arizona law makes clear that charter schools must enroll any student unless the school is at capacity or a student has been expelled.

When will the board stand up for Arizona families and students and ensure these discriminatory policies are changed? Our children are depending on us and we cannot let them down.

I joined the ACLU of Arizona’s Demand to Learn campaign because it gave my family a voice after we faced discriminatory practices at a local charter school. My son has autism. For this, he was rejected. My other son has ADHD and a learning disability. For this, he was rejected. They have been deemed as unworthy. However, worthiness is a birthright; one which we parents will never stop protecting.

That is why Demand to Learn will continue to organize parents to turn out to these board meetings until the board acts to end discriminatory enrollment practices in all Arizona charter schools.

We just hope for a warmer welcome next time.

The ACLU of Arizona wants to hear from any parent who believes their child has been discriminated against during the enrollment process at an Arizona charter school. Contact us at demandtolearn@acluaz.org