[UPDATE 6:03 p.m.: Response From Attorney for Redwood Prep Charter School] Some Local Charter Schools Exclude Students Illegally, Says ACLU
A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union shows several Humboldt County and Mendocino County charter schools using illegal practices that exclude some types of disadvantaged children. The ACLU argues that the schools discourage low income or families of different ethnicities by requiring volunteer time that families working multiple jobs might have difficulty filling, essays that second language school students might struggle to write, or other similar practices.
California law requires that charter schools provide equal opportunities for every child to attend their schools. However, according to the new study, polices listed on these schools websites are in “direct violation of the public trust and the 1992 state law that created charter schools…[and] these are only the violations that schools posted online; many other schools may maintain similar prohibited policies or practices that are hidden from the public view.”
The ACLU argues that some requirements by charter schools can “skim the cream” from traditional public schools–allowing the charter schools to grab students that have high academic potential and weed out those without much parental support.
Local schools that the ACLU says are in violation in Humboldt include:
- Coastal Grove Charter School
- Redwood Coast Montessori
- Redwood Prep Charter School
- Trillium Charter School
Mendocino charter schools the ACLU says are in violation include:
- La Vida Charter School
- Redwood Academy of Ukiah
- River Oak Charter
- Tree of Life Charter
According to the ACLU,
Like any other public school, by law, charters may not discourage or prevent students from enrolling based on income, national origin, academic performance, parent involvement, immigration status, language proficiency, or any other factor. If they have more applicants than spaces, they may choose students only through a fair, unbiased lottery or, in some limited circumstances, by the neighborhood where the student lives.
The California legislature put these rules into place because a free, quality, public education is a moral and legal guarantee. When charter operators create policies that discourage or deny enrollment, they betray not only particular students but also all Californians who are invested in the future of our state.
UPDATE 6:03 p.m.: Letter from an attorney and Board member of Redwood Prep Charter School in response to the accusation by the ACLU and to this article:
To Whom It May Concern,
On August 22, 2016, you published an article on your website entitled “Some Local Charter Schools Exclude Students Illegally, Says ACLU”. This letter is meant to clarify what has happened with respect to Redwood Prep Charter School “RPCS” since receiving notice of this complaint from the ACLU.
RPCS was made aware of the recent ACLU report alleging RPCS has enrollment and admissions practices the ACLU believes to be discriminatory on August 1,2016. Generally, the ACLU is claiming that RPCS has discriminatory Parent/Guardian Volunteer Requirements and discriminatory Requirements that Discourage Undocumented Students.
The claim that RPCS has discriminatory practices is something the school has taken very seriously. Immediately after receiving the notice from the ACLU, RPCS contacted the ACLU directly to seek clarification and determine what RPCS policies were discriminatory.
In response to the director’s inquiry, here is what the ACLU Staff Attorney had to say:
Thank you for your inquiry regarding Redwood Preparatory’ s enrollment violations. We found two violations, namely that the school requires 1) students to provide a birth certificate without any alternatives for proving their age (http://www.redwoodprep.org/#!enrollment/cl ylq); and 2) parents are required to volunteer 30 hours per year.
Regarding the birth certificate requirement, The U.S. Department of Education suggests offering the following options to parents and students: “a religious, hospital, or physician’s certificate showing date of birth; an entry in a family bible; an adoption record; an affidavit from a parent/guardian; a birth certificate; previously verified school records; or any other documents permitted by law.” http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/qa- 201405.pdf.
Would Redwood Prep be amenable to providing a list of options and/or to making clear that the school is open to all immigrant students and students who are not U.S. citizens? Regarding the volunteer hours requirement, we understand that having parents volunteer is important both for families and the school, but we just want school to make it clear that volunteering is encouraged but not mandatory. Such policies may discourage certain children, particularly those who are foster youth, homeless, or those whose parents work several jobs, from attending. We suggest using the word “encouraged” and making it clear that parents/guardians are not required to volunteer, so as not to inadvertently exclude students whose parents/guardians are not able to volunteer at the rate you would like, if at all.
Thank you again for your inquiry, and please be in touch with any ongoing questions or concerns. If you are amenable to amending Redwood Prep’s enrollment language, please let us know and we will consider removing your school from our list.
Upon reviewing these specific issues with the RPCS legal team, RPCS believes that even without making any changes to their policies, RPCS does not have discriminatory policies. However, because RPCS would rather err on the side of inclusion, RPCS will be making these minor proposed changes.
Feel free to contact the school at the number above if you have any questions or concerns.
RPCS Board Member
Hat tip to an article in the Los Angeles Times which brought the situation to our attention.