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April 24, 2017

Nine months after scathing report shows widespread state & federal violations at charter schools, some take corrective action but exclusionary policies remain

LOS ANGELES – In less than a year since the ACLU of Southern California and Public Advocates Inc. examined most of California’s 1,200 charter schools and found that at least 20% had enrollment policies that excluded or discouraged enrollment by certain students, many schools have adjusted their policies, but the majority of those with offending policies have yet to provide any indication that they have taken corrective measures.

The report, titled “Unequal Access: How Some California Charter Schools Illegally Restrict Enrollment,” documented charter schools that establish admission requirements in violation of the California Charter Schools Act, which requires charter schools to “admit all pupils who wish to attend,” regardless of academic performance, English proficiency, immigration status, or other factors.

“We urge the schools that continue to have exclusionary policies to review their materials and immediately remove exclusionary language,” said Sylvia Torres-Guillén, ACLU of California Director of Education Equity.  “These are public schools funded with public dollars that are supposed to be open to all students, not to just a select few.”

The authors of the report are also calling on charter authorizers, those who oversee the schools, to familiarize themselves with the law and closely monitor charter petitions, policies, and practices so that students are not discouraged from enrolling.

“The ACLU and Public Advocates are committed to working with the schools and authorizers to ensure that their policies are clear and inclusive,” said Angelica Jongco, Senior Staff Attorney with Public Advocates, Inc., “but we will explore all available means to bring them into compliance if they continue to ignore the law. One way is our co-sponsorship of AB 1360 (Bonta), which prohibits charter schools’ practices that discourage enrollment or push out already enrolled students without providing due process required by the U.S. and California Constitutions.”

Some striking improvements resulted from the 2016 report. It prompted dozens of charter schools to change their policies to be more inclusive and welcoming for students.  In fact, more than 100 charter schools reached out to the ACLU and Public Advocates after the publication of “Unequal Access” to fix or clarify their policies.  Some charter schools stated they were simply unaware of their legal obligations and quickly made corrections.  Other schools conceded that they had failed to consider how language on their websites could discourage enrollment but they were open to improving their policies.  Still others claimed they had already amended their policies but inadvertently left outdated language on their websites and in handbooks.  Critically, many charter authorizers also reached out, asked for more information about the schools they oversaw, and subsequently worked with those schools to amend their policies and materials.

Since the report's release, 119 out of 253 charter schools in violation have confirmed with the authors of the report that they have changed their admission policies and their public documents to remove exclusionary language and conform to the law.

  • 8 out of 22 schools removed their academic requirements;
  • 46 out of 92 schools eliminated their burdensome pre-enrollment essays and interviews; 
  • 30 out of 63 schools changed their parent volunteer requirements; and 
  • 63 out of 133 schools removed requirements that discriminate against or deter undocumented students.

The study and subsequent response is only a first step toward making California’s charter schools welcoming to all students.  Going forward, the ACLU SoCal and Public Advocates will continue to work with students, parents, educators, advocates, and other stakeholders to expose exclusionary practices and to file complaints where schools violate the law, so that California’s charter schools provide all students with an equal and fair opportunity to attend.

Making Progress Towards an Even Playing Field: A follow-up to the ACLU of Southern California and Public Advocates’ report on charter school admissions policies.