Resource: Improving Access and Creating Exceptional Opportunities for Students with Disabilites in Public Charter Schools

By: Lauren Morando Rhim & Paul O'Neill

October 23, 2013

National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools

This report explores the relevant legal framework that shapes special education in the charter sector; outlines both the challenges and opportunities presented by state public charter school laws that create autonomous schools that operate separate from or alongside traditional public school districts; and identifies key accountability structures. Efforts to change the dynamics must focus on (1) creating quality programs that attract a diverse array of students and (2) holding accountable charter schools that fall short, by design or default, of welcoming and supporting students with disabilities. Based on legal actions in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., and anecdotes from other cities where access and service provision are increasingly under a microscope, charter schools that fail to chart an intentional course related to students with disabilities may be subject to cumbersome regulatory burdens advanced by charter opponents. However, public charter schools do not need to wait until required to improve their approach to educating students with disabilities. The following actions can help operators and support organizations proactively ensure that their schools not only welcome but also create exceptional opportunities for all students, including students with disabilities.