Over 1 in 5 of California’s charter schools have restrictive admissions requirements or other exclusionary practices that keep out many students with the greatest academic needs, a report released Monday by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the public interest law firm Public Advocates alleges.
These practices, the report alleges, “violate the California Education Code, the California and U.S. Constitution, and state and federal civil rights laws.”
The report, titled, “Unequal Access: How Some California Charter Schools Illegally Restrict Enrollment,” says that according to the California Charter Schools Act of 1992, charter schools are required to “admit all pupils who wish to attend,” except for space limitations.
“Charter schools may not enact admissions requirements or other barriers to enrollment and must admit all students who apply, just as traditional schools cannot turn away students,” the 28-page report charges.
Of the 1,228 charter schools in California, the report said that it has identified 253 that have practices that are “plainly exclusionary,” based on information posted on the schools’ websites.
These practices include:
- Denying enrollment to students who have weak grades or test scores;
- Expelling students who do not have strong grades or test scores;
- Denying enrollment to students who do not “meet a minimum level of English proficiency;”
- Requiring students to meet “onerous” requirements for admission, including students or parent having to write essays or be interviewed;
- Discouraging students from immigrant background from applying by requiring parents or students to provide social security numbers or other citizenship information;
- Make enrollment conditional on parents volunteering or donating funds to the school.
In a lengthy statement, Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association, said, “We agree with the ACLU and Public Advocates that charter schools must be open to any student interested in attending.” No one, he said, should be “excluded or discriminated against as a result of enrollment and admissions policies at any public school, including charter public schools.”
He said he was encouraged that the report identified only a small number of charter schools with what he felt were “clearly exclusionary practices” based on academic performance. “We believe there is an urgency to work with these schools to make changes immediately to ensure that students are not unlawfully excluded from applying or being admitted,” he said.
The ACLU/Public Advocates report said that the schools with the offending practices that it listed are just the “tip of the iceberg” because many schools don’t post their admissions requirements and procedures online.
The report called on the California Department of Education “to issue guidance making it clear that these practices are illegal,” and to order charter schools with these exclusionary practices “to change their policies immediately.”
They also called on charter school administrators to make sure that their policies comply with state and federal laws, and “to maintain simple and straightforward admissions policies.”
Wallace said the charter association did not agree that all essays, interviews and requests for student documentation for enrollment are “per se discriminatory or exclusionary.”
But he said that the association will encourage schools “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.”
Eric Premack, director of the Charter Schools Development Center, who helped draft the 1992 charter law, said that “some ambiguities are built into the law to allow for local circumstances.” That’s evident, he said, in the section of the law that lists 16 elements in the charter approval process that says those applying to open a charter school should list “admissions requirements, if applicable.”
He also pointed to another section of the law that said “other preferences may be permitted by the chartering authority on an individual school basis and only if consistent with the law.”
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