By Zara Lockshin

Charter schools are not allowed to kick students out just because they have bad grades. Unfortunately, at least one school did it anyway.

The Public Safety Academy of San Bernardino (PSASB) had a policy in its student handbook that allowed school administrators to remove students who did not maintain a 2.0 minimum GPA. As a result of this policy, PSASB kicked students out of the school for not performing well enough in their classes. Many of them were English learners, who spoke Spanish as a first language, who did not receive the English language instruction they needed before they were told they had to leave the school. Gabi (not her real name) is one of them.

Fortunately, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) intervened, and in late December the charter school agreed to change its policies to comply with state and federal law.

Under PSASB’s new rules, school administrators may no longer remove any child from school based on academic performance. They will now document the support they provide to English learner students and provide parents with translation services so they can fully participate in their child’s education.

While ACLU SoCal is heartened to see PSASB taking the right steps to address the problem, we remain concerned that other schools may have similar policies. The impact these policies have on students and their future academic careers is serious.

Take, for example, Gabi’s story.

Gabi, like 30 percent of students at PSASB, was an English learner. Gabi’s mother enrolled her at PSASB, hoping to provide her daughter a better education. Although Gabi had done well in elementary school, she had difficulty with her classes at PSASB. Gabi was too shy and embarrassed to ask for help, and her grade point average suffered.

But rather than offer Gabi the help she needed, the school simply kicked her out.

The week before Gabi was supposed to start her senior year, she was called into school to meet with the PSASB principal. Gabi’s mother, who speaks only Spanish, came with her, but the school did not make anyone available to translate for her. Gabi had to translate for her mother as school officials explained that Gabi was no longer welcome at PSASB.

Gabi was forced to rush to find a new school or face falling behind in her senior year. To make matters worse, because PSASB kicked her out so close to the beginning of the semester, many schools in her area had already started the academic year.

What happened to Gabi should never happen. The ACLU of California is proud to be sponsoring legislation that make it less likely to happen in the future. Although such practices are illegal under the state constitution and anti-discrimination laws, the charter school law does not explicitly state that charter schools cannot pick which students they wish to educate based on academic performance. SB 322, authored by Senator Mark Leno, would clarify that charter schools cannot adopt admission preferences or enrollment criteria that discriminate against students based on academic performance.

In the meantime, ACLU SoCal calls on other schools to follow PSASB’s example and revise their policies to eliminate any similar practices. Any charter school administrators who want to kick out the students who struggle academically need to reevaluate their priorities, because such policies do a disservice to our students, and have no place in our public schools. In the end, public schools, including charter schools, have an obligation to provide all children a quality education.

Zara Lockshin works in the communications department at the ACLU of Southern California.

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