ACLU Targets Delaware Charter School Laws - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

ACLU Targets Delaware Charter School Laws

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WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Delaware's charter school laws have resulted in de facto segregation that violates the rights of minority students and students with disabilities, according to a complaint filed Wednesday.

The complaint targets the state Department of Education and the Red Clay Consolidated School District in northern Delaware. The authorization of charters has resulted in high-performing schools that selectively enroll wealthy and well-educated white students, says the complaint, filed by The American Civil Liberties Union and Community Legal Aid Society. Meanwhile, poor students and those with disabilities are disproportionately found in failing charter schools and those that are predominantly black or Hispanic, the ACLU says.

"The fact that it is de facto segregation is still segregation," ACLU attorney Richard Morse said.

The group says more than 75 percent of Delaware charter schools are "racially identifiable" by federal standards - meaning there's a disparity of 20 percent or more between the school and its surrounding district's enrollment for a racial group. Using that standard, a predominantly black school could be identified as "white" if the percentage of white students significantly exceeds the overall district's percentage of white students.

Four of the state's five high-performing charter schools are identified as white, while the fifth, although not racially identifiable, has a student body that is 71 percent white, according to the complaint. None of the schools identified as black or Hispanic is high-performing, and four of the eight failing charter schools are identified as black, the ACLU says.

ACLU officials say such disparities result in part from admissions policies, placement exams, and other criteria used by high-performing charter schools - public schools that receive taxpayer funding but are allowed more flexibility than traditional district schools. Officials also say mandatory parental involvement policies, activity fees and pricey uniforms present barriers for low-income black and Hispanic families.

The ACLU says its complaint is not part of a coordinated national effort, but it comes one week after the Office of Civil Rights reached an agreement with a Texas school district regarding charter schools. Harmony Public Schools, which operates 43 charter schools serving 28,000 Texas students, committed to providing English-language-learner students and students with disabilities, equal access to and equal opportunity.

In May, the OCR issued a reminder for all states that the federal civil rights laws, regulations and guidance that apply to charter schools are the same as those for other public schools. Officials also noted that a charter school may not use admissions criteria that have the effect of excluding students on the basis of race, color, or national origin without proper justification, and that they cannot categorically deny admission to students on the basis of disability.

In response to Wednesday's complaint, officials with the state Department of Education, which granted charters to 20 of the 24 charter schools in Delaware, issued a statement saying they are proud of the academic progress that low-income and minority students have made in recent years, including closing the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students.

"We will continue to expand and accelerate our efforts to make great education a reality for all of our students," the statement read.

The Red Clay district is the authority for the other four charter schools, including Charter School of Wilmington, which is Delaware's oldest charter school and was recently ranked by "Newsweek" magazine as the 10th best high school in the country.

"Red Clay is now and always has been committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion in our schools," district spokeswoman Pati Nash said. "We will continue to be guided by these principles."

Charter schools are a popular alternative for many families in Delaware, with enrollment totaling more than 11,000 students last year, or about 8 percent of Delaware's public school students.

The proliferation of charter schools has led to increased segregation in traditional public schools in those districts, the ACLU contends. The ACLU and Legal Aid Society are seeking remedies that include a moratorium on new charter schools until an effective desegregation plan has been implemented, utilization of a random opt-out lottery for charter school admissions, additional funding to schools with disproportionately high numbers of disadvantaged and special needs students, and a plan to ensure that students with disabilities are recruited and reasonably accommodated in all charter schools.

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