In determining whether a charter school is subject to the IDEA and Section 504, it is important to find out whether the charter school is a public school of the local education agency (LEA) or not. If the charter school is a public school of the LEA, then the responsibility to ensure that FAPE is provided to kids with disabilities is the responsibility of the LEA. If the charter school is NOT a public school of the LEA, then the responsibility is the state educational agency's unless the state assigns it to another entity. You can usually find out if the charter school is a public school of the LEA or not by asking the charter school for its memorandum between either the state or the local school district.
If the answer is “yes” that the charter school is a public school, and most are, then all the same requirements under the IDEA and Section 504 would apply.
Sadly, many parents describe that charter school officials tell them things like, “We’re a charter school, and therefore, we don’t do 504 plans or IEPs.” This is contrary to law.
More details about charter school obligations to students with disabilities are available in the publication from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights online at http://www.uscharterschools.org/pdf/fr/civil_rights.pdf)
What is a charter school’s obligation to make sure that student applicants with disabilities are treated in a nondiscriminatory manner in regard to admissions?
Under Section 504 (of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act) and Title II (of the Americans with Disabilities Act), a charter school may not categorically deny admission to students on the basis of disability. For example, it many not deny admission to a student with a disability solely because of that student's need for special education or related aids and services. Students with disabilities must have the opportunity to meet any appropriate minimum eligibility criteria for admission, consistent with the mission of the charter school and civil rights requirements.
Can charter schools waive their responsibilities for special education?
No. Charter schools are public schools and, as such, cannot waive their responsibilities under federal laws. They must comply with all federal education laws including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Section 504") and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A state may waive portions of its own state laws and regulations that go beyond federal requirements or the requirement to abide by school district regulations concerning special education, but no waiver is possible from federal requirements pertaining to students with disabilities enrolled in charter schools.
It is very important that SEA officials involved with charter schools are aware of the federal laws that impact the implementation of special education in charter schools, and the important basic concepts of LEA identity and linkage between a charter school and an LEA that are covered in the Background section of this primer.
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