By Ismael F. Armendariz, Jr.
Over the past week there has been a lot of discussion about the ways in which charter schools serve students with learning differences.
In the 2015-2016 school options guide, Oakland Unified School District published that 40 out of 62 Oakland charter schools do not serve special education students.
Superintendent Wilson followed up with a statement correcting the “Miscommunication” that was published, announcing: “Let me be very clear: All public schools, whether they are district-run or charter-run, have a legal obligation to serve all students.”
So to be clear, as Superintendent Wilson called on us to be, charter schools do not serve all special needs children and here’s why.
First, there is a difference between providing a service and providing a range of services. OUSD provides a range of services to meet the needs of all students.
Oakland charter schools do not.
About five weeks into the school year, I met Rashida Allen when her son transferred into my class. During a conversation, she explained to me how her son was forced out of Bay Tech Charter because he needed more support.
Ms. Allen explained, “He was basically kicked out. They told me he had to go back to OUSD. They couldn’t serve him at that school.”
Bay Tech’s application claims they do not discriminate on the basis of “mental or physical disability.” But this was not the case for Ms. Allen’s son.
Sadly, her experience is not unusual.
When a student has additional needs, charter schools typically push them out. And that’s because charters usually only provide a very basic level of support. The limited range of programs forces charters to exclude students who need additional support.
Secondly, charters don’t fully contribute to the cost of providing special education services to Oakland students.
Currently, only 11 out of the 62 Oakland charter schools have joined OUSD’s Special Education Local Plan Area or SELPA. SELPAs are responsible for developing a local plan on providing special education services to students in their area.
OUSD provides services to the majority of higher needs students, which cost more. Charters feel they should pay less because they typically serve lower needs students and these services cost less.
Because charters join other SELPAs, they leave OUSD to cover the bill alone. Last year, OUSD paid $33.5 million out of its general budget to make up for the lack of federal funding for Special Education.
If more charters joined OUSD’s SELPA and helped cover the cost of serving higher needs students, OUSD would save money. Instead, charters choose to join other SELPAs that short change OUSD students.
In short, Oakland charters don’t provide a full range of services nor do they fully contribute financially to ensure that all Oakland special need students are served.
On the other hand, OUSD provides an array of services to meet the needs of all students. OUSD serves ALL students in the community and they pay the bill.
Ismael Armendariz is a special education teacher in Oakland.