In December 2017, the ACLU of Arizona published Schools Choosing Students, a report that shed light on Arizona charter schools and their discriminatory policies that create barriers to enrollment for low-income students, English Language Learners, students with disabilities, and other vulnerable student populations.
My family is well versed in these policies. I shared in the report how my sons faced discrimination at a local charter school. I was forced to file a complaint with the federal government about the offending school and was left with no option but to re-enroll them in the school they had just left. This was disappointing and left me feeling let down by the whole process.
After the Schools Choosing Students report came out, Demand to Learn advocates like me pushed the Arizona Board for Charter Schools for change. We demanded action for Arizona families that were facing discriminatory barriers to enrollment in public, tax-payer funded charter schools. We attended multiple charter board meetings, delivered petitions and demand letters to charter members, and reminded them that “school choice” should mean that families choose schools, not the other way around.
Five months after the release of the report, the Arizona Charter Board finally took a step in the right direction and announced new enrollment guidelines for Arizona charter schools. The new guidance was announced at the May charter board meeting (check out the presentation here). So far, the board has released new enrollment guidance about many of the issues raised in the Schools Choosing Students report:
- Guidance about prior discipline history, birth certificates, and academic requirements, among other issues;
- Special education;
- Fees and volunteer hours;
- Enrollment preferences; and
- Guidance on “required documentation”
This is something to celebrate! The new guidelines are a step towards an equitable path to enrollment. This gesture is evidence that the board took our concerns seriously. As a result of our loud and firm voices, the board has begun taking action and introduced the guidelines following an independent investigation. Though we appreciate this positive first step, Demand to Learn will remain vigilant and make sure that charter schools are complying with the new guidelines.
However, pushing the Arizona Charter Board to take action wasn’t the only thing on our plate. The Demand to Learn campaign remains committed to eliminating practices that disproportionately push children of out of the classroom. That’s why Demand to Learn fought back against Governor Ducey’s plan to increase funds for School Resource Officers (SROs). Police on campus do not make schools safer, but research does confirm that police presence in schools can effectively funnel children out of the classroom and into prison cells.
In addition, during the legislative session, we urged elected officials to reject SB 1196, a bill that would have created a greater disparity in our public education system by allowing corporations to buy enrollment priority for their employees’ children if they donate land or buildings to a charter school. Plus, the ACLU of Arizona filed a federal complaint against Glendale Union High School District regarding its refusal to enroll refugee and immigrant students seventeen years or older who require English-learner education.
This has been a difficult and personal journey for my family. My children were rejected and deemed unworthy—how many others has this happened to? This is when I joined Demand to Learn. While the new guidelines came too late for my family and for so many others, I am optimistic. I view these guidelines as a reward for speaking up against discriminatory policies. Our hope is that no other parent goes through the despair we went through. Our hope is that no child ever be made to feel unwanted, unwelcome, or not good enough.