Days before the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on Wednesday released guidance to verify explicitly that federal civil rights laws that apply to public schools also apply to public charter schools.
“We applaud the Department of Education for releasing this very important, long-overdue guidance, which makes crystal clear that charter schools – like all public schools – have a federal obligation to ensure that all children, regardless of race, national origin, sex, or disability status, receive a fair and equal opportunity to succeed,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “While most charter schools, like most traditional public schools, do their best to serve all students well, the lack of clear guidance has resulted in some charter schools mistakenly assuming that their practices were compliant. The federal government’s long silence on this question has caused unnecessary confusion to students, families, and charter school educators and officials.”
In particular, the guidance underscores the importance of certain obligations, such as maintaining free public education for students with disabilities, appropriately supporting English-language learners, and avoiding discriminatory admissions and disciplinary practices. OCR also provided a full list of guidance publications as a resource to note that the guidance outlined within the letter was not exhaustive, just instructive.
“With this guidance, there is no longer any doubt that charter schools have the obligation to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to learn and succeed,” Henderson said.