On February 15, 2021, the Center submitted a letter to West Virginia State Senator and Chair of the Education Committee Patricia Rucker regarding our concerns about proposed legislation, HB2012, that would allow charter schools in the state to discriminate against students with disabilities.
February 15, 2021
The Honorable Patricia Rucker
Chair, Education Committee
West Virginia State Senate
Room 417M, Building 1
State Capitol Complex
Charleston, West Virginia 25305
Dear Senator Rucker,
Thank you so much for your continued work on behalf of West Virginia families. I regret that I cannot address you in-person. In lieu of testimony, please accept this letter on behalf of The Center for Learner Equity (The Center for Learner Equity) on those aspects of HB2012 that impact special education and students with disabilities who may seek to attend West Virginia charter schools.
As Executive Director and Co-founder of The Center for Learner Equity, I firmly believe that public charter schools play a vital role in ensuring the equitable distribution of high-quality educational opportunities across the state, including students with disabilities. Our organization has provided support to the national charter schools community for the past seven years. We have a first-hand understanding of both the challenges and opportunities that charter schools face in providing access and excellent educational options to students with disabilities. We offer the following concerns about HB2012 and recommendations for modifying the bill.
West Virginia’s Charter School Law Barely Addresses Special Education
West Virginia’s charter school law says very little about educating students with disabilities. It simply calls for them to “[p]rovide special education services as required for all public schools by federal law.” (§18-33-7(4)) and indicates that charter schools function as schools within their district Local Education Agency (LEA). This effectively means that the district retains primary responsibility for students with disabilities attending charter schools. The law does not contain nearly enough information for school districts, parents, and students to know how their needs will be met. Through our work with states around the country that are addressing these same issues, we have developed the following best practice language. We believe that HB2012 would be greatly strengthened by its inclusion:
Each charter school in the state shall serve as a school of location within its local education agency (“LEA”) for purposes of special education and related services. Each charter school shall enroll students without regard to disability status. Following selection via the lottery, the individualized education program (“IEP”) of any student with a disability shall be immediately reviewed. If the charter school has concerns that the student’s IEP requires a more restrictive environment than can be provided by the charter school, it shall ask the LEA to convene an IEP team meeting with representatives from the charter school in order to make any adjustments to the IEP or the school’s program that the IEP team deems necessary to ensure that the student is educated in the least restrictive environment (“LRE”). It is the LEA’s responsibility, via the IEP team, to determine an appropriate placement. In rare instances where an IEP team determines that the charter school is not the LRE appropriate, the LEA shall take responsibility for the student and determine his or her placement.
HB2012 Includes Illegal and Inappropriate Language Limiting Enrollment of Students With Disabilities in Virtual Charter Schools
As currently configured, HB2012 creates a barrier limiting access by students with disabilities to certain charter schools. It empowers virtual charter schools to prevent students with an IEP from enrolling so long as they “have a discussion” with the child’s family.
A virtual public charter school shall not enroll a student who needs special education services unless the student and the parent or guardian of the student first meet with the student’s IEP team, or its equivalent, and discuss whether enrollment in the virtual public charter school is an appropriate placement for the student (page 26, line 39).
No public school should be allowed to create a hurdle to limit students with disabilities from attending. No state should establish a double standard for admission of students with disabilities in some charter schools and a different standard in others. This is not only terrible, inequitable policy but also simply illegal—a violation of numerous elements of federal laws ensuring that students with disabilities cannot be excluded from public schools on the basis of disability. This includes the Individuals with Disabilities Education, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The provision also therefore violates West Virginia’s charter school law as quoted above, which states that charter schools must “[p]rovide special education services as required for all public schools by federal law.”
We urge you and the Education Committee to delete line 39 on page 26 from HB2012. The language we propose for the bill provides a lawful, appropriate process for the admission and enrollment of students with disabilities in all West Virginia charter schools, both brick and mortar schools and virtual ones.
Please feel free to reach out to me if we can be of any further assistance.
Lauren Morando Rhim, PhD
Executive Director and Co-Founder
The Center for Learner Equity