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Do charter schools offer services to students with disabilities?

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Charter schools are public elementary and secondary schools, just as traditional local schools. Charter schools have existed in the United States for over twenty years after state legislation in Minnesota beginning in 1991. Each state has the authority to include charter schools in its state law as a way of offering students a public education. Most states have done just that and have written state charter laws that guide how charter schools operate.

Important differences exist between traditional public schools and charter schools in that charter schools are typically run by individuals or businesses, rather than the local or state government. Charter schools are started for a variety of reasons. According to the National Study of Charter Schools report, the three reasons most often mentioned for starting a charter school are as follows:
–to realize an educational vision
–to gain autonomy
–to serve a special population

Charter schools are considered ‘schools of choice’ that give families more options for their children’s public education. It must be noted that state laws often grant charter schools some freedom from meeting certain state or local education regulations or policies then they do traditional public schools. Charter schools must follow all federal laws that apply to any other public school. Currently, this includes ensuring that charter school data are included when reporting to the federal government every year on student progress. Data are broken out by race, ethnicity, gender, grade, and disability status, as required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001 and the results should be made public.

Public charter school data about students with disabilities are also included in the IDEA data reports submitted by State Education Agencies (SEAs) each year to the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. This data includes counts of children, educational environments, reasons for exiting special education, assessment participation and performance, personnel, dispute resolution, and discipline.

Charter schools are public schools of choice in that parents select the school their child attends. As public schools, charter schools are required to enroll and serve students with disabilities in the same manner as traditional public schools. Depending on the disability, charter schools are able to provide individualized support to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

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 are committed to serving students with exceptional needs.
Created as an alternative to traditional public schools, charter schools are designed to offer innovative educational strategies. Unique to charter schools is 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 Individualized Education Plan (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.

More information on charter schools and students with disabilities will be included in the next article.

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