Barriers to enrollment at Arizona charter schools are not limited to first-time enrollment. Some parents report that their children encounter barriers to re-enrollment as they advance from one grade to the next. Often these barriers are couched in vague language contained in a charter school’s student handbook or other school documents, advising parents that their children should enroll elsewhere if the “environment” is not “appropriate” for a particular student. These ill-defined statements may mislead parents into believing that charter schools have the right to engage in an unlawful process of picking and choosing students the school wants to serve.
PPEP TEC High Schools (six campuses in southern Arizona): All students are enrolled on a two-week probationary period. If, during that period, it is determined that the enrolled student has failed to follow the school’s discipline matrix, or if the school feels it “is not the appropriate placement for the student, the student may be withdrawn.”
Leading Edge Academy (seven campuses in the East Valley): During an enrollment interview, “you and your student will meet with the Principal to discuss your education goals, to determine if the learning environment at Leading Edge Academy will best benefit your student.”
Metropolitan Arts Institute (Phoenix): “Metro Arts is a college prep school and is designed for students who are serious about both academics and the arts. A demonstrated capacity for serious academics, arts, and good character are basic to Metro’s mission and essential for success. Students uninterested in living up to these requirements should seek enrollment elsewhere.”
Pine Forest School (Flagstaff): The school states that when it receives more applications to enroll than it has space for, it asks parents to complete a form that places them on a waiting list. “When space has become available in the classroom, parents/guardians will be contacted for an interview with the Executive Director and Class Teacher to ensure our specialized curriculum and program are suitable for the student.”
PLC Arts Academy at Scottsdale (Scottsdale): The school says it “may at its discretion disenroll any student, if in the opinion of the Board, the student or student’s family members engage in activities which could result in complaints against the school, and endanger the future of the school from any public body, i.e. City of Scottsdale (traffic stipulations and contract), Police Department, State of Arizona.”
Great Hearts schools (schools across the Phoenix metro area): In June 2016, Great Hearts schools adopted a policy that discriminates against transgender students, thereby suppressing their enrollment.
Indeed, charter schools should be open to all students and should not screen out students, including academically struggling students. That means schools should not set minimum grade point average requirements, requirements that students cannot fail classes, requirements that students meet a minimum score on a test, or any other requirements that condition continued enrollment on academic performance. Students, once enrolled in a school, must be given priority for continued enrollment and should not be disenrolled, placed on a waitlist or placed in the lottery because of academic performance. Yet, at least 16 charter schools in Arizona withdraw or encourage students to leave for struggling academically.
Copper Point High School (Tucson): Student must receive a “C” grade or better in a course to receive credit. If students consistently demonstrate poor character or academic progress, a request will be made for a “re-interview” to determine if the school “continues to be the right fit for them.”
Nosotros Academy (Tucson): “For all new and returning students, the first two weeks of attendance is considered probation. During this time period, attendance, academic work, and behavior will be considered before enrolling the student. At the end of the probation period, if the student has complied with policy requirements, the student will be enrolled in Nosotros Academy. Students who do not successfully complete the probation period have to reapply.”
Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy (Prescott): The school states in its handbook that it “does not encourage students with academic or behavior problems to apply.” It goes on to say a request for a re-interview of the student will be made whenever the student demonstrates poor academic progress, behavioral concerns or other issues that “indicate the support of the school expectations is waning.” According to the school, “This process is designed to help a student determine whether NELA continues to be the right fit for them.”
Charter schools also may not push out students based on extraneous attendance requirements. In Arizona, the number of absences may be considered “excessive” when it exceeds 10 percent of the school year (A.R.S. § 15-803(B)). If a student becomes habitually truant, meaning the student misses at least five days within a school year, an attendance officer may contact local law enforcement and issue a citation to the student or parent, requiring them to attend a court hearing (A.R.S. § 15-805(B); A.R.S. § 15-803(C)(1); A.R.S. § 15-803(B)).
In addition, a school may withdraw a student who is “absent for ten consecutive school days, except for excused absences identified by the department of education" (A.R.S. § 15-901(A)(1)). Some charter schools have stricter attendance requirements. At least 30 schools say a student may be withdrawn or lose credit for a class if the student has fewer absences than what Arizona law allows.
PPEP TEC High Schools (six locations in southern Arizona): “…students who have four or more unexcused absences in one school year and/or do not complete at least two and one half (2.75) academic credits in one semester may be dropped from the PPEP TEC High School program.”
Self Development Academy (Mesa, Phoenix): “If my child is absent for more than 2 consecutive days, he/she must have a doctor’s note in order to return to school.” Prolonged out-of-town events must be approved by the school administration.
American Heritage Academy (Camp Verde, Cottonwood): “Students with an excess of six unexcused absences per semester, may be considered candidates for indefinite suspension or expulsion from the Academy, and/or loss of credits or retention.”
Harvest Preparatory Academy (Yuma, Goodyear, San Luis): “Students are only allowed 5 excused absences throughout the year. Tardies and early departures are included. If a student exceeds the limit, a meeting will be arranged with the parent and school administrator.”
Metropolitan Arts Institute (Phoenix): The school states that “any unexcused absence in any class will result in an immediate loss of 10% of the quarter grade in the course that was skipped.” If a student misses six or more classes in a course per semester, they won’t receive credit for the course and will get an F on their transcript. They also won’t be eligible for credit recovery and will not be allowed to register for the following semester.
The Paideia Academy of South Phoenix (Phoenix): “Arizona State Law requires scholars to attend classes a minimum of 95% of the school year.”
Vision Charter School (Tucson): “A student may not miss more than six (6) days a semester … All absences exceeding six (6) days in a semester will result in a 2% grade reduction for the applicable class(es) missed … Students not meeting the attendance requirement may not receive credit even though their grades are passing.”
Furthermore, charter schools can apply for federal funding to cover costs of providing nutritious food to students. However, some charter schools choose not to apply for the federal funds, creating a barrier to enrollment for students who come from low-income families.
Bennett Academy in Phoenix is one example of a school that doesn’t offer free or reduced-price food programs. The school states on its website that it chooses not to because it does not want to be “part of a movement in this country that is turning families into ‘dependents’ of the federal government.” It goes on to say, “We think better of our families than that. Our families pay for their own children’s lunch and breakfast. If they cannot, we are certain that they can get food stamps for a limited period of time, and visit food banks. If they still have trouble buying food for their family, they can alert us to this problem and we can help for a while.”
- Schools should eliminate tactics for encouraging voluntary withdrawal based on academic performance, disability, behavioral issues, or personal characteristics such as sexual orientation, language proficiency, country of origin, gender identity, religion, or race.
- Schools should eliminate pre-enrollment interviews with students and probationary periods.
- Schools should eliminate attendance requirements that are stricter than required by law.
- Schools should apply for federal funding for meal programs so that a lack of food during the school day is not a barrier to enrollment for low-income families.