All school districts recently received a memo from the U.S. Department of Education. The following quote includes most of the content of that memo.
“The U.S. Department of Education supports charter schools’ efforts to provide students, including those in some of the nation’s highest-need communities, with additional meaningful opportunities to receive a high-quality public education. Today, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights has released new guidance providing a reminder that our federal civil rights laws apply to charter schools just as they apply to other public schools.
“The guidance explains that the federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in education on the basis of race, color, and national origin; sex; and disability extend to all operations of a charter school, including recruiting, admissions, academics, educational services and testing, school climate (including prevention of harassment), disciplinary measures (including suspensions and expulsions), athletics and other nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, and accessible buildings and technology.”
Note that this is a reminder, not a new directive.
This important message reminds all districts receiving tax dollar support of guidelines that they are expected to follow. It is also important because all public schools are currently evaluated on the same expectations and sometimes are placed on warning lists or are labeled as underperforming. To be fair, all schools including charter schools must operate under the same basic rules.
The federal civil rights laws are in place to assure certain practices exist in every school receiving tax support. All schools including charters are required to accept all students who apply and use the same disciplinary measures and offer the same services to all students.
There are existing measures in place that the state already uses to determine whether or not a school or district is serving its proportional share of students with disabilities. These measures would provide logical evidence as to whether or not enrollment practices are overtly or covertly selective and thereby discriminating.
For more than 30 years choice has been a theme used to improve the quality of the public schools. And there are many positive examples of charters and other schools of choice. We must, however, keep in mind that these schools were intended to supplement not supplant existing schools. And they must be available to all students on an equal basis.
Philanthropist David Rockefeller Jr. once said, “The emphasis on choice seems premised on the benefits that education confers on individuals, not on society, whereas the genius of American education is premised on its recognition of schooling’s communal and civic purposes.”
To fulfill this lofty mission, we must diligently monitor our educational system to assure that all students have access to programs that educate them for their personal success and equip them to be worthy citizens.
Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.