Charter Schools and Special Education: Charter Schools Are Viable Options for Students with Disabilities, Just Do Your Homework First and Make Sure It's a Good Choice for Your Student!

By Berg, Michael | The Exceptional Parent, June 2017 | Go to article overview

Charter Schools and Special Education: Charter Schools Are Viable Options for Students with Disabilities, Just Do Your Homework First and Make Sure It's a Good Choice for Your Student!


Berg, Michael, The Exceptional Parent


According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, over three million students receive their education in approximately 6,900 charter schools across the United States. Roughly eight percent or 240,000 students in public charter schools have disabilities according to a United States Government Accountability Report published in 2012. With more than 300 charter schools opening up in 2016 and enrollment tripling over the past decade, parents of children with special needs are starting to take notice of this other public option for educating their students.

As the founder of a public charter school in Georgia, I am frequently asked questions and for advice by parents of students with special needs who are struggling to find the best model of education that meets the diverse needs of their children. When I ask parents why they are seeking another option for their children, I often hear responses that include, "The traditional public school just does not understand the special needs of my child," or "I cannot afford private tuition any longer," or "Homeschooling is just not working out, I was not meant to be a teacher." Charter schools are a viable alternative for parents who are not satisfied with their children's current school option. School choice is a good thing, but trying to decide between traditional public schools, private schools, home schooling, and charter schools can be a daunting task.

What are Charter Schools?

Charter schools are tuition-free autonomous public schools of choice that enter into a contract with an authorizing agency. State law dictates which agencies can authorize a charter school. Often the authorizer is the state's Department of Education. However, there are other authorizing agencies such as individual public school systems and universities. This contract between the charter school and the authorizer allows for flexibility and autonomy in the methodologies of teaching practices that occur in the school. However, in exchange for this flexibility and autonomy, the charter school must meet specific goals set forth in their contract. If these goals are not met within a specified period of time, the authorizer has the power to close the school. Traditionally, charter schools must demonstrate that they can outperform their surrounding traditional public schools. Accountability levels for charter schools in most states are very high, as they should be!

How do Charter Schools Serve Children with Special Needs?

Many people think that charter schools do not have to accept students with disabilities. This is not true! As public schools of choice, charter schools are required by law to provide special education services to students with disabilities and be in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Any student entering a charter school with a current special education eligibility will be provided services, accommodations, and modifications as prescribed in the student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP). In addition, charter schools are also held responsible for establishing a Response to Intervention (RTI) program or a Child Find program which serves as a path for identification of students who might be eligible for special education services.

Children with learning disabilities, speech-language impairments, intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, emotional/behavioral disorders, health impairments, and developmental disabilities are all being educated in charter schools across the nation. Charter schools typically have certified special education teachers and paraprofessionals on staff that offer inclusive and separate class services. In addition, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and school psychologists will either be on staff, part-time or fulltime, or be contracted out to meet the services in the IEPs of the special education population of the charter school. …

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