on their roster. Inclusion of children with special needs in general education classrooms is very high in most charter schools, including children with moderate and severe intellectual disabilities. • Unlike magnet schools and private schools, admission to charter schools is not dependent upon entrance exams, previous academic performance, or auditions. This is advantageous for students with disabilities who do not necessarily perform well on standardized exams and have difficulty meeting the requirements of magnet schools and private schools.
While charter schools have many positives, there are also some potential issues that parents of children with disabilities should be aware of.
• Most charter schools have flexibility in their hiring practices and may hire teachers who are not certified. Usually these teachers are not core academic teachers, but specialty teachers such as foreign language teachers, fine-arts teachers, home-economics, or business teachers. However, some charter schools may have uncertified academic teachers and this should be of concern to parents. Teachers without the proper pedagogical and practical trainings may not fully understand the academic, social, and emotional needs of children with disabilities.
• Charter schools do not generate the same funding as traditional public schools. Therefore, some charter schools struggle with acquiring the necessary resources such as technology, textbooks, and specialized equipment needed for students with special needs. Adapted technology may be at a minimum.
• The majority of charter schools do not offer transportation to or from school for any of their students. All parents are responsible for pick up and drop off and this can pose great difficulty for parents of students with physical disabilities who typically use specialized transportation provided by larger public school districts.
• Some charter schools open up in older facilities. These older facilities might not be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Parents of students with physical disabilities will need to ensure the school has been appropriately adapted to meet their students’ mobility needs.
Do Your HomeworkBefore Making a Choice!
The continuum of school choice options is growing for parents and their children with disabilities. Parents must surely do their homework before deciding if a particular charter school is the right choice for their students. The following are important steps to take prior to making a decision.
1. Educate yourself on your state’s charter school laws and regulations. They vary from state to state. Visiting your state’s Department of Education (DOE) website is a good place to start.
Some charter schools struggle with resources such as technology, textbooks, and specialized equipment needed for students with special needs.
2. If you find a charter school that you think might be a possible option, set up a meeting with the school’s principal and the school’s director of special programs. Take a tour of the school. Ask enough questions so you have a deep understanding of the charter school’s methodology of teaching and educational practices. Look to see if children with disabilities are assimilated into the culture of the school and are participating in classes and activities with non-disabled peers.
3. Inquire about the school’s special education staff. The administrator in charge of special education programs should be experienced with special education law, eligibility requirements, and local, state, and federal regulations. The special education teachers should be highly qualified and certified by the state in which they are teaching. Find out how often occupational therapists, speech pathologists, psychologists, and other support staff are available at the school. Most charter schools do not have the need for full-time support staff, but you want to ensure the support staff is there to meet the requirements in your student’s IEP.
4. Most charter schools use a lottery system for entrance as there are usually many more students vying for a seat than what is available. If a charter school has a large amount of seats available, that could be a possible sign that parents are not banging down the door for their students to get in and something is wrong.
5. Include your student in the choice. Ultimately, parents need to decide which educational option is best for their children. However, try to include your student in the process and allow them some voice in the decision.
Our home addresses do not determine which pediatrician or dentist we use to treat our children. Nor do our home addresses decide where we shop for our children’s clothes or shoes. We have choice in these services and products. Therefore, why should the number on our mailboxes dictate where we can have our children educated? When it comes to a free and appropriate public education, many parents are no longer bound by the numbers on their mailboxes and have the option to send their children to public charter schools. Choice is good! However, with choice comes decision making and when making decisions as essential as your child’s education, it should not be taken lightly. Charter schools are viable options for students with disabilities, just do your homework first and make sure it’s a good CHOICE for your student!•
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Michael Berg is an Associate Professor of Special Education at Augusta University in Augusta, Georgia. He earned his Ed.D in School Improvement with a concentration in Special Education from the University of West Georgia. He is a Nationally Board Certified Special Education Teacher and has taught students with mild and moderate disabilities for 24 years at the elementary and middle school levels. In addition, he is the founder of the School for Arts Infused Learning (SAIL), a public charter school in Evans, Georgia.
1. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. (2017). Estimated Charter Public Sch
ool Enrollment 2016-17. Retrieved from publiccharters.org 2. United States Government Accountability Office. (2012). Additional Federal Attention Needed to Help Protect Access for Students with Disabilities. Retrieved from gao.gov