Popularity of Charter Schools
Charter schools are becoming more popular.1 One reason is their focus of different academic programs compared to a traditional school curriculum. Charter schools are still public schools, but the charter allows them to be exempt from certain state laws. This enables a charter school to tailor their education programs differently than other public schools.
Charter Schools In North Carolina
Charter schools are schools authorized by the State of North Carolina under a document called a charter. The NC State Board of Education oversees these schools. In January, 2015, the Board approved 11 charter applications. They approved 2 more in February, 2015 and another in March, 2015. The charter must meet the requirements of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-218.1. Each charter school is operated by a non-profit business. Each charter school has its own board of directors.
A charter school must meet the academic and other standards set forth in the charter. If they fail to do so, the state can revoke the charter and shut down the school. Unfortunately, Dynamic Community Charter School, a school created for educating children with disabilities, was closed when the Board of Education revoked their charter claiming various violations. The school lost its appeal and charter in July, 2015.2 I do not know all of the allegations and claims by the State so I cannot comment whether the actions by the State were appropriate. However, this is a sad affair, as it seems from comments and reactions of parents that the school was providing a great academic environment for these children.
Problems in Charter Schools
Some schools (public and charter) seem ill equipped to address the special needs of children with disabilities. The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools made the following statement:
Yet, when it comes to educating students with disabilities, the sector has largely been caught flat-footed. On average, charter schools enroll fewer students with disabilities than traditional public schools and they have generally not invested adequate resources to develop exemplary programs for students with disabilities. 3
Financial restraints and pressures to meet the charter standards may be a reason for the lower enrollment rates. The lower enrollment rate leaves parents with special needs children with limited education options. If National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools’ information is correct, then the dismantling of Dynamic Community Charter School is a larger set-back to special needs children and their educational options in North Carolina than at first glance.
Even if they get accepted to a charter school, the question is whether the school has the proper programs in place for students with disabilities. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-218.55 provides that “a charter school shall not discriminate against any student on the basis of . . . disability.” As part of this non-discrimination requirement, the charter schools must abide by the federal rules for evaluating students with disabilities for Individual Education Plans (IEP) or a 504 plan (from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973).
Kids with different learning styles, special needs and physical differences should not be seen in a different way. Every child is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). They are not to be discriminated against in any of these schools; yet, they do not seem to be getting the assistance they need to succeed.
One problem I see with many charter schools is they do not have the proper staff to address the needs of children with disabilities. They generally do not have a psychologist on staff. A good psychologist can provide valuable insight into the needs of a child with disabilities. The psychologist can help develop behavioral plans and provide training for other staff for proper interaction with these children. Appropriate attitudes and interaction by teachers and staff at a school can make a huge impact on the success of a child with special needs.
Positive in Charter Schools
Unfortunately discriminatory attitudes abound in teachers and school personnel in both public and charter schools in North Carolina. In my time representing special needs children, I have represented children and their parents in charter schools in Durham and Wake counties. A lot of schools generally are ill-equipped to meet these children’s needs, but I have found some of these schools become better educators of these children than regular public schools with the proper help, advocacy and education. I have seen dramatic turn-around of attitudes towards special needs children by charter school personnel after IEP meetings in charter schools.
I have extensive personal and professional experience representing such children and their parents because they deserve to be included and given the chance to succeed. I partner with families, identify needs, advocate for these children in IEP and 504 meetings, mediate claims, and file petitions with the NC Office of Administrative Hearings when appropriate.
Contact Wickward Law Office, PLLC, 919-710-6691, for your child’s educational needs.