Charter School Choice Could Involve Forfeiting Student Civil Rights
On March 15, 2016, education blogger Jennifer Berkshire (“EduShyster”) published a post entitled, “Signing Their Rights Away.” Berkshire opens her post as follows:
A series of court rulings suggests that students who attend charter schools do not have the same rights as public school students…
When I read this statement, I realized that this is a reality that I had not fully considered regarding the situation of thousands of students who leave traditional public schools in order to attend America’s charter schools.
I wonder how many parents consider as much when they choose charter schools for their children. My guess is that many find out after their children are enrolled and are subjected to what often amounts to the “broken windows” theory behind extreme, “no excuses” discipline (another EduShyster post).
It sounds good on the surface: “No disruption will be tolerated.” The problem comes in taking “disruption” to the extreme– and to being in a strategic, quasi-public-private position to enforce extreme policies at the cost of student rights.
Charter schools are often left “on their honor” to report to the public and other entities the type and frequency of their discipline. As one might imagine, such becomes yet another system to game. For example, in my January 2016 interview with New Orleans parent and activist, Ashana Bigard, I learned that one New Orleans charter tells students who are not fully in uniform to leave school for the remainder of the day. The students are not issued any written document verifying as much; they are simply set loose on the street to walk home. Even though it requires students to leave the premises, the charter does not count this as a suspension. Instead, the charter maintains that missing a single day is not a suspension, and issuing no paperwork (in other words, removing the opportunity for a paper trail) means the student is not suspended.
Yet the students are being told by administration to leave school grounds while school is in session for being not fully in uniform.
Paperwork or not, that, my friends, is a suspension.
In investigating the issue of charter school students’ forfeiture of traditional public school student rights, I found this February 2016 report by Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), entitled, “Civil Rights Suspended: An Analysis of New York City Charter School Discipline Policies.” Below are some of the highlights of the 31-page report:
Over the past few years, Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) has assisted an increasing number of parents who have contacted us with concerns about charter school suspensions and expulsions. In the past year-and-a-half alone, AFC has provided guidance or legal representation to more than 100 parents in charter school suspension and expulsion cases. Most of these parents had celebrated winning the charter school lottery and wanted their children to continue attending the charter school.
In helping parents with these cases, AFC found that charter school discipline policies were not always readily available. Parents often did not have a copy of the policies, and the policies were not always available online.
In June 2013, we sent Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the three New York City charter school authorizers, all charter schools operating in NYC during the 2012-2013 school year, and, to the extent possible, charter schools opening in NYC during the 2013-2014 school year seeking, among other things, copies of their discipline policies. Charter schools are required to comply with FOIL requests, and most charter schools responded. From the FOIL responses and charter school websites, we were able to review 164 discipline policies from 155 of the 183 charter schools operating in NYC during the 2013-2014 school year. These discipline policies came from large charter school networks as well as from small, independent charter schools.
From our review, we found:
(1) 107 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed permit suspension or expulsion as a penalty for any of the infractions listed in the discipline policy, no matter how minor the infraction. …
(2) 82 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed permit suspension or expulsion as a penalty for lateness, absence, or cutting class, in violation of state law.
(3) 133 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed fail to include the right to written notice of a suspension prior to the suspension taking place, in violation of state law.
(4) 36 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed fail to include an opportunity to be heard prior to a short-term suspension, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, New York State Constitution, and state law.
(5) 25 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed fail to include the right to a hearing prior to a long-term suspension, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, New York State Constitution, and state law.
(6) 59 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed fail to include the right to appeal charter school suspensions or expulsions, even though state law establishes a distinct process for charter school appeals.
(7) 36 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed fail to include any additional procedures for suspending or expelling students with disabilities, in violation of federal and state law.
(8) 52 of the 164 NYC charter school discipline policies we reviewed fail to include the right to alternative instruction during the full suspension period, in violation of state law.
While charter schools should be able to discipline their students, they must uphold the rights of their students and provide them with a fair discipline process. The Charter Schools Act requires charter school authorizers to ensure that charter applications include discipline policies and procedures that comport with the law. Yet, all three authorizers of New York City charter schools have approved charters for schools that have legally inadequate discipline policies.
Nationally, there appears to be a problem with sloppy charter approval and oversight. Nothing exemplifies this more than the US Department of Education’s (USDOE) sending up to $71 million to Ohio for charters despite known fraudulent manipulation of the numbers on Ohio’s application to USDOE.
Caught in an embarrassing situation, USDOE tried to excuse itself by noting that it hadn’t thoroughly reviewed Ohio’s application before shoveling Ohio’s way the largest grant of that dispersal.
And so, “autonomy” easily becomes a wide road for parent and student exploitation.
The issue of the loss of rights for students who leave traditional public school classrooms in favor of charters surely warrants more attention. In AFC’s report on NYC charters, AFC makes clear that the loss of charter student rights is often in violation of NY state law. However, not all states have legislation in place to guarantee retention of traditional public school rights when students transfer to charter schools. As Berkshire reports in “Signing Their Rights Away”:
Our expert witness today: one Dr. Preston Green, a professor of law and educational leadership, who has been monitoring a series of court rulings regarding the rights of students in charter schools. Or make that the lack of rights. Dr. Green warns that both state and federal courts have issued rulings stating that students in charters do not have the same due process rights as public-school students. So what does this mean for cities like Los Angeles where a dramatic expansion of charter schools is on the table? *Half of the publicly-funded schools in Los Angeles might be legally permitted to ‘dismiss’ students without due process.* says Dr. Green. *We have to ask ourselves if such a scenario is acceptable.*
Such is not acceptable. In general, charter schools love to market themselves as “public schools”; however, any fine print behind the slogan is virtually nonexistent:
Charter schools are public schools.*
*This school runs at least in part on public money. However, we are also a private entity, and as such, we reserve the right to utilize our public status to our advantage and our private status, as well. Educating any and all individual students is secondary to maximizing our public-private leverage. Know that we will do our best to educate your child so long as your child is able to comply with our terms of service. Know also that those terms might not become clear until they have been violated.
Charter school autonomy should not mean forfeiture of student and parent civil rights. Yet the reality is that as quasi, public-private entities– and often under-regulated entities, at that– charter schools are in a fine position to serve themselves at the expense of their students.
Stifling the civil rights of students is just one more example of how market-mindset-birthed charter schools might put “the company” first.
Coming this spring from TC Press:
Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.
She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.
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