Bluum hosted a Civil Rights Summit in Boise today in which they brought in two guest civil rights attourneys from Washington DC, Lauren Baum and Renita Thukral, to provide information regarding civil rights law and procedures for Idaho public schools; specifically, Idaho’s charter schools compliance with minority student enrollment and compliance with civil rights law.
The forum was attended by a variety of charter stakeholders including charter school principals, board members, and teachers. The speakers presented information civil rights eduction law information specific to Communidad Y Justicia’s Office for Civil Rights complaint which alleges charter schools in Idaho engage in discriminatory practices against minority students in including ethnicity, Limited English Proficiency (LEP), Free/Reduced Lunch (FRL), and Special Education students.
That complaint was filed in May of this year with specific allegations of policies that were discriminatory including lack of busing, free/reduce lunch programs, and preference policies that negatively impact minority students’ ability to “choose” Idaho’s charter schools as an option. It was filed after the Idaho Public Charter School Commission published their first ever annual report which indicated that minority students of all kinds were largely absent at Idaho’s charter schools.
The speakers did a good job of breaking down the crux of the complaint to the audience along with the procedure the Office for Civil Rights is now engaged in while determining if the information warrants an investigation into the complaint by their office. They also shared some of their own thoughts if the investigation carries merit.
They noted that most charter schools in Idaho do provide bus transportation, but encouraged the audience to work with legislators to increase bus funding to allow the charter schools in Idaho to also provide transportation for students who are unable to walk or be transported by family to school. They echoed the same point for charters not providing free/reduced lunch services.
It is notable that the lack of transportation and free/reduced lunch services appear to impact the ability for low income families to “choose” charters for the child. For example, Idaho’s largest charter school, Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, does not provide bus transportation or free/reduced lunch to their roughly 700 students, and has a shockingly small 1% FRL population in comparison to Coer d’Alene’s public school district with 45%+ FRL student body. This suggests that FRL and bus transportation are necessary for low income students to attend Idaho’s charters.
The speakers noted that charters’ preference allotment system is not unique to Idaho. Idaho’s statute allows preference to be given to founders’ children, board members’ children, and teachers’ children as long as these preferences do not exceed 10% of the total student population.
Idaho’s code does not provide a cap on preferences being given to siblings of students already enrolled. Part of the OCR complaint alleges that between the 10% preference cap, and allowing no cap on preferences for siblings of students already enrolled, that the preference policy becomes discriminatory to minority populations.
This is because if the existing student body is white, English speaking, and affluent the charter school will simply replicate that demographic from year to year because enrollment slots will simply be taken up with students exactly the same demographics because of the preferences allowed; which is to say that if a school is not diverse, it would be difficult for a school to ever become diverse due to the preferences allowed.
The facilitators provided an excellent summary of civil rights laws and protections included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), English Language Learners (ELL), nondiscrimination requirements, and discipline for minority students, and other minority resources.
Of interest might be my original OpEd regarding the demographic imbalance between Idaho’s charters and surrounding districts, Idaho Charter School Network’s response via Communication Coordinator Amy Russell, My OpEd reply to Russell, and Terry Ryan (President of ICSN) reply to that writing.