How Have Charter Schools Affected Students with Special Education Needs

Carl J. Petersen
Feb 24, 2018 · 5 min read

On February 20, 2018, the LAUSD School Board put the proposed Holding GHCHS Accountable to Their Charter on the agenda of their Committee of the Whole meeting. The following is the written statement that I provided to the Board:

Honorable LAUSD Board Members:

This is Chanda Smith. She was an LAUSD student with special education needs who fell through cracks in the system. In 1993, lawyers from the ACLU filed a class action suit under her name. The result of that suit is a consent decree that the District is still struggling to comply with 22 years after it was signed.

Around the same time that Ms. Smith’s lawyers were filing their paperwork, California began its experiment with charter schools. Since charters claimed that this would give parents more choice, the LAUSD embraced these new types of schools and became the largest charter authorizer in the country. Did those in charge consider the effect on students like Chanda Smith? Were these students given more choices or were they left behind?

Granada Hills High School was not converted to a charter because the school was not performing well. In fact, it was “one of the highest-achieving schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District”. Instead, some saw it as a way to end the district’s practice of diverting their Title I funds to schools with needier populations and to end the practice of busing students from downtown and the East Valley into “their” school. This conversion took away access to a high performing LAUSD school for children like Chanda Smith and provided less opportunity for choice.

At the time of the conversion, 6% of Granada’s students identified as African American. By 2012, African Americans represented only 4% of the school’s population. This seems to contradict the Charter School Division’s (CSD) assertion “that GHCHS has generally increased its diversity over time.”

When it comes to those who are English Language Learners (ELL), the demographics paint a picture that is even worse. As a public school in the 2002–03 school year, 9% of the school’s students were enrolled as ELL. Data from 2012 shows that these students now make up 3% of the population. That represents a drop of over 66%!

Those with special education needs have also not fared well with the school under private control. While 11.5% of students in California are enrolled in special education, Granada reported in 2012 that these students comprised only 6% of their student population. Since the Resident Schools Median was reported to be 15%, Granada cannot claim that it sits in an area that is lucky enough to have a reduced need for these services. The need exists, Granada is just not filling it.

The CSD also says that we should ignore this data because “it remains up to students and their families to determine whether they wish to seek enrollment in GHCHS.” What they do not explain is why families like Chanda Smith’s would avoid choosing a school that is high performing like Granada. Is it possible that they are somehow made to feel unwanted?

As a conversion charter, Granada is supposed to take in all the students from their former attendance boundary without question. Therefore, the enrollment forms should simply ask for the student’s name, address, and age. As I have been reporting to the district for months, the school asks for much more including birth country, ethnicity, race, home language and 504 and IEP documents. While the CSD makes the assertion that the school’s web page indicates “that the enrollment procedures and requirements only apply after a student has been effectively admitted to the school”, the facts do not support this statement. Instead, the same page that requests this information specifically states that “this information form is subject to review and does not guarantee enrollment.” It also warns that “persons who provide false information…are subject to criminal prosecution for perjury” and then goes on to list various criminal statutes.

The information requested is also clearly not optional. In fact, parents are asked for the IEP three different times as they go through the enrollment process.

The CSD also maintains that its “staff has not discovered, received, or otherwise identified any credible evidence of an intent or act to discriminate against students with disabilities, or any other student subgroup, on the part of GHCHS or its staff” as if improperly asking these questions can be excused if it can not be proven that the school is misusing this information. This contradicts the CSD’s own document that states that “requesting a copy of a student’s IEP or information contained in a student’s IEP during the pre-admission stage creates an inference…that the charter school may be using this information to ‘counsel out’ or otherwise discourage students with disabilities from seeking admission”. For this reason, the Independent Monitor has required all charters authorized by the LAUSD to state that the school “shall not request or require submission of a student’s IEP, 504 Plan, or any other record or related information prior to admission, participation in any admissions or attendance lottery, or pre-enrollment event or process, or as a condition of admission or enrollment”.

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For years Granada has violated its charter, the requirements of the Independent Monitor and possibly the law by asking for the IEP and other information before the students are enrolled. It is time for this body to stand up for the current Chanda Smiths of the LAUSD and ensure equal access to all schools, especially one that was formerly an example of a District success but is now privately run with public funds. My resolution gives you the tool to correct this injustice. I hope that you will use it.


Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” Opinions are his own.

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