By Emma Fennelly, Spring 2019 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern
Under the current administration, “school choice” has been heavily promoted by the Department of Education and its current Secretary Betsy DeVos as an alternative to traditional public schools, giving parents more choices when deciding how to educate their children. Charter schools are privately administered schools that are publicly funded, but still have the ability to accept additional funds from grants and organizations. Traditional public schools do not qualify for such funds.
In addition to funding differences, private charter schools differ from traditional public schools in administration: families must apply to charter schools and be accepted; charter schools do not follow the same state-mandated curriculums; and charter schools are not held to the same accountability requirements as traditional public schools. However, while charter schools may be exempt from certain state or local requirements, they are still a part of the public education system and, as such, are subject to all federal laws and regulations related to students with disabilities, particularly the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under this law, a child age 3 through 21 years old who is considered to have a disability under any of IDEA’s twelve categories of eligibility is entitled to Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). An “appropriate education” is construed broadly and can include anything from assistance in a general education classroom with an occasional classroom aid, to a separate classroom for students with similar learning disabilities, to the implementation of related services such as speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy, psychological counseling, or medical diagnostic services necessary for the child’s education.