A recent investigation from National Public Radio and the Miami Herald found that the vast majority of Florida’s charter schools offer no opportunities to students enrolled in special education, mirroring a national trend seen in California, Louisiana, New York and Texas.
In Florida, more than 86 percent of the charter schools have no students with disabilities, despite state law requiring that all students have an equal chance of enrollment. For Tonya Whitlock, whose son wanted to attend a charter school but was turned away because of his cerebral palsy, the situation is unexceptable.
“If federal funding is going to fund these charter schools, then they should be equal,” she said. “They should have equal opportunity for every student to be able to get an education at that school.”
Charter schools are publically funded, but privately run, schools. This option provides these schools more flexibility than regular schools in designing curriculums and enrollment policies.
For some charter school advocates, the trend is simply a product of the early stages of the charter school evolution. Because special education programs are expensive, many charter schools do not yet have the infrastructure to provide the appropriate resources. Therefore, special education specialists are unlikely to refer these students to charter school programs.
“I imagine that the children with disabilities will be next,” said Lynn Norman-Teck, spokeswoman for the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, in the article. “Unfortunately, just like they were an afterthought in the traditional public schools — not necessarily an afterthought, but it came with time. I think that will happen in time.”
But for some special education advocates, such as Harvard University researcher Thomas Hehir, the patterns is violating the students’ civil rights.
“If we had similar patterns of exclusion of kids by gender or race, I think there would be much more outrage than there is on the part of government and on the part of people,” he said.