On December 3, 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Community Legal Aid Society filed a complaint charging that the State of Delaware's charter school law and policies have a discriminatory impact on students of color and students with disabilities, and have significantly contributed to the re-segregation of the state's public schools.
In the complaint to
the U.S. Department of Education's Office
for Civil Rights, the groups say the State of Delaware, through
its Department of Education and the Red Clay School District --- the two
entities that authorize charter schools in the state --- is in violation
of both Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, a federal law against discrimination,
and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a federal law establishing
specific rights for students with disabilities.
"Delaware has granted charter schools broad authority in their admissions processes. They get to choose which students can attend. The result is that students of color and students with disabilities are not getting an equal chance to attend many of the charter schools. For students of color who do attend charter schools, most attend racially segregated schools," said Courtney Bowie, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Racial Justice Program.
More than three-quarters of charter schools operating in Delaware are racially identifiable, according to the complaint. Some are almost entirely racially identifiable as white, while low-income students of all colors and students with disabilities are disproportionately relegated to charter schools that are also racially identifiable as African American or Hispanic. Another result of the proliferation of charter schools is increased segregation in traditional public schools located in districts where charter schools operate, the complaint alleges.
"Every student in Delaware deserves equal access to a high-quality education," said Kathleen MacRae, executive director of the ACLU of Delaware. "But what has evolved since the passage of the Charter School Act is state-sanctioned preferential treatment for some families over others in charter school admissions."
Charter enrollment requirements can include high examination scores, essays written by parents to explain why a school is a good choice for their child, annual activities fees, mandatory parent involvement, and mandatory high-cost uniform purchases. Such barriers prevent students from low-income, African American, and Latino families from having the same access that middle class and wealthy families have.
"We hope that the Office of Civil Rights recognizes that any system of selection that has the effect of almost completely excluding children with disabilities from 'high-achieving' charter schools is deeply disturbing and must constitute illegal discrimination," says Dan Atkins, legal advocacy director of the Disabilities Law Program of Community Legal Aid Society.
He adds, "We look forward to working with the federal government, the state of Delaware, and Red Clay School District to develop criteria that integrate more students with disabilities. This is consistent with the state and federal government's mission to provide equal educational opportunities to all children --- regardless of race, income, and disability."
The ACLU and Community Legal Aid Society are calling for:
- A moratorium on the authorization and opening of new charter schools until an effective desegregation plan has been implemented.
- Utilization of a random opt-out lottery for charter school admissions.
- Assurance that the cost of attending a public charter school is free and that parents are not required or pressured to purchase uniforms or raise money for the school.
- Capping class size in traditional public schools at the same level as charter schools and ensuring that total funding for traditional public schools is equal to that of charter schools.
- Providing additional funding to schools with a disproportionately high number of students of color, students with special needs and low-income students.
- A plan to ensure that students with disabilities are recruited and reasonably accommodated in all charter schools.