Demand letters sent to more than 100 public charter schools, letters sent nearly three months after release of “Schools Choosing Students” report
PHOENIX—The ACLU of Arizona has sent letters to more than 100 public charter schools demanding immediate changes to these schools’ discriminatory enrollment policies. The letters addressed unlawful enrollment policies related to special education, student discipline history, and mandatory fees or volunteer hours.
“In January and February, parents attended the public charter board meetings to demand action from the people who oversee these schools, and yet the board has done nothing to ensure these discriminatory policies have changed,” said ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler. “We will continue organizing parents to turn out to these board meetings until the board acts to end discriminatory enrollment practices in all Arizona charter schools. In the meantime, we’re going straight to schools.”
In mid-December, the ACLU of Arizona released a report, Schools Choosing Students, which revealed that at least 262—56 percent—of Arizona charter schools have policies that are clear violations of the law or discourage the enrollment of certain students, including students with disabilities, students who struggle academically, students with disciplinary history, and students from immigrant families. The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools authorizes and governs the vast majority of charter schools. The agency is responsible for ensuring that charter schools follow all laws and abide by the terms of their charter contracts. Yet the Charter Board has not taken any action to change how it oversees the enrollment policies and practices of the schools it authorizes.
The ACLU of Arizona has sent letters to seven charter schools demanding they eliminate restrictions on the enrollment of students with special education needs, 58 schools that unlawfully discourage the enrollment by students who have been disciplined short of expulsion, and 51 schools that improperly require parents to pay fees or volunteer at the school.
Under Arizona law, charter schools are required to enroll “all eligible pupils who submit a timely application.” 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.
“Every school that is receiving a letter from the ACLU of Arizona must take action to change its unlawful policies or we may have to initiate legal action,” said ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Kathy Brody. “It’s unconscionable that almost three months have passed since these schools received notice of their unlawful policies and the Charter Board has not acted to fix the problem. We want to hear from any parent who believes their child has been discriminated against during the enrollment process at an Arizona charter school.”
This morning, education advocates presented an “agenda” for public charter school reform and delivered these demand letters to the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools. The Charter Board had a meeting scheduled for this morning but it was cancelled “due to no requests for Board consideration,” according to the Board’s Feb. 22 newsletter. The next Charter Board meeting is April 9.
A list of the schools that were sent a letter today by the ACLU of Arizona is available online. Copies of letters sent to individual schools may be requested by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.