Charter schools are tuition-free, public schools that are open to all students. Like all public schools, charter schools understand their responsibility to serve all students, and charter schools should be committed to serving students with disabilities.
Special education is defined as instruction that is specially designed to meet your child's unique needs at no cost to the parents by adapting the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction. This includes addressing the needs of your child based on his or her disability and ensures he or she can meet the educational standards that apply to all children within the school system.
Two important laws that protect the rights of students are the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Both of these laws apply to all children with disabilities regardless of whether they receive their education at a traditional district school or a charter public school.
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) is a federal law that guarantees all children with disabilities to have access to a "free appropriate public education," or FAPE. It emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs of the student with a disability in order to allow them to receive benefit from instruction. Whether a student with a disability attends a traditional public school or a charter school, FAPE is required.
Section 504 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Section 504 ensures that children with a disability have equal access to education. The student may qualify as a student with a disability under Section 504 but may not qualify under IDEA. However, if the student qualifies under IDEA, they also automatically qualify under section 504.
If you suspect that your child may have a disability and they attend a charter school, contact the principal of the school or the local special education coordinator to begin the intervention process.
Ultimately, your local school district rather than the charter school has an obligation to "identify, locate and evaluate" all children with disabilities who may be eligible for special education who live within the district boundaries not only those attending district schools, but all those who are attending charter public schools, private schools or homeschool. Written parental consent is required before any evaluation, placement or services may be initiated.
Created as an alternative to traditional public schools, charter schools are designed to offer innovative educational strategies. Charter schools may have the flexibility to truly individualize the educational program, or, when appropriate, create specialized programs at the charter school site. Depending on a student's individual needs, offering appropriate special education services may also result in the charter school working with a district program, a non-public school or agency, or another charter school, to provide a level or type of service that is not available at the individual charter school site.
Similar to the process for serving students in a traditional district school, the IEP team makes a determination for the best option based on the needs of the student. Depending on the charter school and the unique needs of the student, these services may be similar to what is offered at a traditional school, or they may be different. In any case, charter schools are committed to providing quality and compliant special education services that are tailored to students' unique needs.