MYTH #1: Charter schools do not have to follow the same laws as district public schools regarding special education students.
REALITY: Charter schools in Arizona are bound by all the same federal civil rights laws as public schools. These include the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the "IDEA") and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
MYTH #2: If a charter school does not have staff qualified to address my child’s special education issues, or if the particular service my child needs would be expensive, the charter school isn’t obligated to address my child’s needs.
REALITY: As is the case with district public schools, the fact that a particular service is not currently available or is too expensive is not a legitimate justification to deny services that are deemed necessary under the IDEA.
MYTH #3: My child's charter school is very small and doesn’t have a school psychologist, so if I want to know if my child has a learning issue, my only option is to find someone myself and pay out of my own pocket for a private evaluation.
REALITY: Charter schools – just like district public schools – have a legal obligation to identify students with disabilities, and this means evaluating students if there is reason to suspect the existence of a disability. If the school doesn’t have someone on staff, the school must find some way to accomplish the evaluation without cost to you. For example, the school could contract with and pay an outside expert to conduct the evaluation.
MYTH #4: It’s okay for a charter school to deny my child admission to the school based on the fact that the school does not have qualified staff to teach my child, or does not have certain facilities my child needs.
REALITY: A charter school may not discriminate in its admissions decisions based on a child's disability, regardless of whether the school has staff or facilities available at the time of admission.
MYTH #5: If I think my child’s charter school is doing something wrong, there is no one I can complain to about it.
REALITY: Many parents attempt to resolve disputes by going to the governing body of the charter school first. If that route is unsuccessful, you can file a complaint just as you would if your child attended a district public school. Where you file the complaint depends on what the complaint is about. The options are described here.
MYTH #6: If my complaint doesn't resolve the problem, I just have to accept whatever the school decides, because I can’t afford a lawyer.
REALITY: Many parents are able to become exceptional advocates for their children on their own. The key is to learn your legal rights and then insist that they be honored. I highly recommend the following resources for parents: (1) self-advocacy guide published by the Arizona Center for Disability Law; (2) Wrightslaw; (3) Dyslexia Training Institute; (4) Understood.org. There are also many exceptional special education advocates in the community who can be hired for less than the cost of an attorney. You can find their names by contacting the Council for Parent Attorneys and Advocates.
Suggested resources for parents:
1. Arizona State Board for Charter Schools
2."Improving Access and Creating Exceptional Opportunities for Students with Disabilities in Public Charter Schools," NCSECS 2013
3."Charter Schools and Students with Disabilities," COPAA 2012
4. "Understanding Your Child’s Educational Rights: Serving students with special needs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation of 1973," ACDL 2007
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