ACLU and CLASI File Complaint with Office of Civil Rights

The full text of the complaint may be viewed here.

CONTACT: Kathleen MacRae, ACLU-DE Executive Director—302.654.5326 x102, kmacrae@aclu-de.org; Brian Hartman, CLASI Disabilities Law Program Project Director—302.575.0660 x220; bhartman@declasi.org

Wilmington, DE (December 3, 2014) — The ACLU of Delaware, ACLU Racial Justice Program and Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. filed a complaint today with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education arguing that 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 resegregation of Delaware’s public schools. Specifically, the complaint claims that the State of Delaware through the Department of Education and the Red Clay Consolidated School District, the two entities that authorize public charter schools in the state, are in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Charter schools have been granted broad authority in their admissions processes. They get to choose which students can attend, rather than giving parents a true choice. The result is that students of color and students with disabilities are not getting an equal chance to attend many of the high-performing 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.

Every student in the State of 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 of 1995 is state-sanctioned preferential treatment for families who are able to navigate the special requirements of charter school admissions.

These include such things as high examination scores; essays written by parents to explain why a school is a good choice for their child; access to gifted and talented elementary and middle school programs that help increase academic performance; annual activities fees; mandatory parent involvement, sometimes in fundraising; and mandatory high-cost uniform purchases. These barriers prevent students from low-income African American and Hispanic families from having the same access to high quality charter schools that middle and upper class 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 the ‘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, Inc.

It’s terribly unfair to the children with disabilities who should have earned their place in those schools, and it sends a harmful and hurtful message, really to everyone, to continue to shut those students out. We look forward to working with the federal government, the State of Delaware, and Red Clay Consolidated 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.”

Racially Identifiable Schools

The complaint documents that over three-quarters of charter schools operating in Delaware are racially identifiable. High performing charter schools are almost entirely racially identifiable as White. Low income students and students with disabilities are disproportionately relegated to failing charter schools and charter schools that are racially identifiable as African American or Hispanic, none of which are high performing.

Another result of the proliferation of charter schools is increased segregation in traditional public schools located in districts where charter schools operate. In addition, when the impact of the Neighborhood Schools Act of 2000 is considered, inner city school children have no good alternatives—they may attend a hyper-segregated traditional public school or attend a hyper-segregated charter school. When charter schools admit a disproportionate number of higher-income White students with no disabilities, the traditional public schools are left with the difficult and costly task of educating the students most challenged by poverty or special education needs.

Recommendations

In order to remedy the current situation regarding Delaware public schools, the ACLU and CLASI urge:

  • 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.
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7 Comments

  1. James M. Parks
    Posted December 3, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    “A moratorium on the authorization and opening of new charter schools until an effective desegregation plan has been implemented;”

    Guess what? The last “desegregation plan” is what has led directly to charter schools in Delaware. Are we to repeat this cycle endlessly?

    The students, parents, and taxpayers of this state have voted emphatically in favor of charter schools in the most direct way possible. With their feet.

    This will go nowhere. The Supreme Court has already clearly differentiated between guaranteed opportunities and guaranteed outcomes with regards to education.

    • Eve Buckley
      Posted December 3, 2014 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

      This complaint focuses on opportunity. Have you read it?

      • James M. Parks
        Posted December 4, 2014 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        This complaint focuses on dubious and somewhat racist assertions as to the causes for segregation in Delaware public schools.

        To wit:

        “These include such things as high examination scores; essays written by parents to explain why a school is a good choice for their child; access to gifted and talented elementary and middle school programs that help increase academic performance; annual activities fees; mandatory parent involvement, sometimes in fundraising; and mandatory high-cost uniform purchases. These barriers prevent students from low-income African American and Hispanic families from having the same access to high quality charter schools that middle and upper class families have.”

        Read that paragraph carefully and think about what it says.

        What about low income non African-American or Hispanics? Or Asians? They are somehow exempt from these same requirements? Or these requirements do not effect them in the same manner?

        Is the ACLU actually implying that charter schools have admissions policies that specifically discriminate on the basis of race? Because if not than the complaint pretty much collapses, at least with regards to racial discrimination.

  2. Eve Buckley
    Posted December 4, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    James, no Americans are protected on the basis of income, under Civil Rights or any other laws. The laws cited in this complaint do protect racial minorities and special needs students. If a policy that overtly discriminates on the basis of wealth indirectly disadvantages minority or special needs students (such as because poor students are disproportionately from protected minority groups, which is the case in DE–esp. in New Castle Co), then those policies CAN be contested on the basis of civil rights protections. That is the substance of the complaint, in my understanding. (And it is not a legal case–it is an assertion that OCR, in the exec. branch of federal gov’t., should examine whether DE DOE guarantees equal access to public ed. opportunities for minority and special needs children, as that agency agrees to do when it accepts federal ed. funding of any kind).

  3. James M. Parks
    Posted December 4, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    OK, so the ALCU is filing a complaint that African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately represented among low-income Delawareans. Thanks for the clarification.

    A first year law student could knock this one over with his/her little finger. Hopefully the DOE doesn’t waste too many taxpayer dollars responding to this nonsense.

  4. Eve Buckley
    Posted December 4, 2014 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    I find this recent “dear colleague” letter from OCR helpful in understanding how it approaches complaints of this kind:

    http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-resourcecomp-201410.pdf

  5. Eve Buckley
    Posted December 5, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Diane Ravitch, the doyenne of the national movement against “school reform” (charters & privatization), calls the ACLU action on behalf of DE students a “blockbuster” that “could have sweeping national consequences…if the Brown decision is still in effect.”

    http://dianeravitch.net/2014/12/05/blockbuster-aclu-sues-delaware-for-segregated-charter-schools/

    Admittedly she doesn’t understand an important element of the case–she refers to it as a lawsuit when it is an “administrative complaint” to OCR (not to the courts). Still it is nice to see this getting national attention. WHYY and NBC-Phila. have also picked up the story.

    Congratulations, ACLU & CLASI!!

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