DOE settles with Texas charter school system

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Texas Charter Schools Settle with DOE

The Department of Education reached an agreement November 26 with the largest charter school network in Texas, concluding an investigation into the school’s alleged discriminatory practices against students with disabilities and English Language Learners.

“Like all public schools, Harmony’s charter schools must be open to all students, including ELL students and students with disabilities, and must provide students with the important educational services they need to fully participate in the schools’ educational programs,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights with the Department of Education, in a news release.

For the 2011-2012 school year, just 2.7 percent of students in the Harmony charter network received special education services, compared to 7.3 percent of the students in the school districts where the charters are located.

In its investigation, the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights raised concerns that the network’s practice of excluding students with a “documented history of a criminal offenses, juvenile court adjudications or discipline problems” was having a disproportionate impact on students with disabilities.

Under the terms of the resolution agreement, the Cosmos Foundation, a nonprofit company that operates the Harmony charter schools, will review its admission policies.

The agreement also requires the charter network to review its evaluation and placement standards for students with disabilities, particularly in regard to documentation standards, for students receiving special education services, or other disability related services pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The DOE also identified potential compliance violations regarding the school’s due process hearing requirements under Section 504, as well as its procedural safeguards for parents and grievance procedures. It also found that some schools lacked contact information for their Section 504/ Americans with Disabilities Act coordinators. These issues have been resolved.

The Harmony charter network operates 43 charter schools in the state, include 14 in the Houston area, serving about 28,500 students, according to the Houston Chronicle.