ACLU Report Claims Sixteen SBC Charter Schools Are Violating State Law

Sixteen charter schools in San Bernardino County are in violation of state law, most notably by discriminating against low-performing applicants, ones who are foreign-born and without documentation or who are challenged by the English language, the American Civil Liberties Union and SoCal and Public Advocates charged in a report released last month.
The San Bernardino County charter schools that are in some way out of compliance with the rules by which they should operate are, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and SoCal and Public Advocates, the Academy for Academic Excellence, the Academy of Careers and Exploration, Alta Vista South Public, ASA Charter, Casa Ramona Academy for Technology, Community, and Education, Competitive Edge Charter Academy, Grove Charter Academy, Independence Charter Academy, Mojave River Academy, Mountain View Montessori Charter, New Vision Middle, Norton Space and Aeronautics Academy, Provisional Accelerated Learning Academy, the Public Safety Academy of San Bernardino, Riverside Preparatory and Soar Charter Academy.
While charter schools are educational entities that function outside the strict parameters of the structures of school districts, they function under the aegis of a sponsoring school district using taxpayer funds. As such they are mandated to make an unbiased provision of the educational services they provide to all students within their jurisdictional purview. But, according to the ACLU, 253 of the state’s 1,228 charter schools utilize exclusionary enrollment policies. The ACLU and SoCal and Public Advocates in their report titled Unequal Access: How Some California Charter Schools Illegal Restrict Enrollment charge that the charter schools make exclusions based on academic performance, discriminate against English learners, require pre-enrollment essays or interviews, impose requirements that discourage undocumented students and have illegal parent or guardian volunteer requirements.
The report states that “The original vision of charter schools in the 1990s was to provide new opportunities to improve the quality of education for thousands of students living in under-resourced communities. However, charter schools can also heighten existing inequities. Through admissions policies that exclude vulnerable students by erecting various barriers to entry, charter schools have the potential to create a two-tiered system of public education. We believe charter schools are viable only if they are open to all students.”
The report continues, “Although charter schools may be privately controlled and receive non-government funding, they are part of California’s public education system. The California Constitution requires that all students, whether they choose to attend traditional public schools or charter schools, have equal access to educational opportunity. Like other public schools, it is illegal for charter schools to select which students to enroll.”
The report states, “These practices disadvantage certain groups of students, including legally protected classes such as English-language learners, students with disabilities, and immigrants, among others, by deterring or outright precluding enrollment. These exclusionary policies violate the California Education Code, the California and U.S. Constitutions, and state and federal civil rights laws.”
In many cases according to the ACLU and SoCal Advocates, the illegal practices are occurring in the open.
“The fact that the websites, handbooks, and other public materials of so many schools contain plain violations demonstrates a clear failure of accountability,” according to the report. “The entities that authorize charter schools, which include the California State Board of Education, county offices of education, and local public school districts, are responsible for ensuring that charter schools follow all laws and abide by the terms of their charters.”
While the ACLU has no enforcement authority or status as a state agency, it possesses a stable of attorneys who are empowered to summon charter schools or the districts sponsoring them into court by the filing of a civil action, which upon successful litigation could result in the charter schools and academies being force into compliance by a verdict or court order.
In San Bernardino County, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, Grove Charter Academy has excluded student applicants based on academic performance; the Public Safety Academy of San Bernardino and Soar Academy engaged in exclusion based upon pre-enrollment essays or interviews; Competitive Edge Charter Academy has imposed illegal parent/guardian volunteer requirements; Riverside Preparatory, Provisional Accelerated Learning Academy, Norton Space and Aeronautics, New Vision Middle, Independence Charter Academy, Mojave River Academy, Mountain View Montessori Charter Academy, Casa Ramona Academy for Technology, Community, and Education, the Academy for Academic Excellence, the Academy of Careers and Exploration, Alta Vista South Public, and ASA Charter utilized requirements that discourage undocumented students from applying for admission.
In reaction to the report, the nonprofit California Charter Schools Association, which represents charter schools throughout California, stated, “We agree with the ACLU and Public Advocates that charter schools must be open to any student interested in attending, and no student or group of students should be excluded or discriminated against as a result of enrollment and admissions policies at any public school, including charter public schools. We are encouraged that the report identified a small number of charter schools which have the most clearly exclusionary practices based on academic performance. We believe there is an urgency to work with these schools to make changes immediately to these policies to ensure that students are not unlawfully excluded from applying or being admitted to the charter school program.
The California Charter Schools Association goes by the acronym CCSA.
“While we do not agree with the ACLU or Public Advocates that all essays, interviews and requests for student documentation for enrollment are per se discriminatory or exclusionary, CCSA will encourage our members to revise the language of their policies concerning essays and interviews, and to better describe the options available to families for enrollment documentation to ensure that there is not even a perception of bias or discrimination in admissions and enrollment processes,” CCSA said. “We are encouraged to see that progress has been made on reducing the number of charter schools with policies requiring mandatory volunteer hours or donations as a condition of enrollment.”
CCS’s statement continued, “CCSA agrees with the overarching principle that serves as the basis for a new report from the ACLU and Public Advocates, and does not support the adoption of policies by charter public schools that discriminate against any group of students. CCSA also agrees with the report authors that there is no need for changes to California charter law as a result of the findings. Instead, the appropriate solution is to address the issues by providing additional guidance and communications to charter schools, districts and counties across the state from CCSA and the California Department of Education. However, CCSA does not agree on all areas of the report.
“CCSA believes the types of policies identified in the report have different levels of urgency in terms of their impact on students,” the statement continues. “The report found only 22 schools (approximately 2% of California’s total 1,228 charter schools) have academic policies that exclude low academic performers. We believe that academic performance policies are the most urgent to address. We do not agree that all policies (e.g., essays, interviews or requests for student documentations) are per se discriminatory or exclusionary – there may be a perception of bias or discrimination, they may have been poorly drafted, but there is not necessarily evidence that they are intentional in their exclusion. For example, we disagree that auditions for performing arts schools are not permissible but we do advise that charter schools not implement them in a way that discriminates against groups of students unfairly. It is important to keep in mind that many charters are started by teachers and parents who often write their petitions and policies, many times without aid of legal counsel.”
CCSA implied that abuse of the state educational code is not limited to charter schools.
“Limiting the report to charter schools was a missed opportunity to provide the bigger context that all public schools, including district/traditional public schools, should be held to the standards that this report has applied to charter schools,” the CCSA statement propounds. “All public schools should be held to the same standards and policy makers and the public should be provided with the information about how well all public schools are meeting these standards.”

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