Oakland School District’s Catalog Promotes Charters That Exclude Special Needs Students

Enrollment Options Guide

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) for the first time has included charter schools in its annual catalog of school choices for parents – advertising many charters that do not offer services for special education students and English Language Learner students.Enrollment Options Guide sp

The new catalog is a big step toward implementing “common enrollment,” a proposal by OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson’s administration that has not yet been approved by the board of education.

The administration has said its goal is to create opportunities for students who are underserved in Oakland public schools to move to better public or charter schools.

The proposal minimizes the distinction between district schools and charters – despite differences in curriculum, legal requirements and level of public accountability – because they are both publically funded.

“This year, for the first time, you will find individual school descriptions and application information of all OUSD public schools, including charters,” said Supt. Antwan Wilson in an open letter published in the 195-page catalog.

“With this guide, parents and caregivers can learn about any Oakland public school (public or charter) they choose and make the best decision for their families,” he said.

Roseann Torres

Roseann Torres

However, 44 of the 62 charter school programs listed in the Enrollment Options Guide say they do not offer multilingual and English learner services, and 40 say they offer no special education services.

Oddly, while the physical catalog released last week contains charter school listings that say they offer no special education services, an online version of the catalog that was on the district website this week has been revised.

Under the heading of special education services, it now says, “Contact school for details.”

By the Post’s deadline, the school district did not respond to questions about the catalog.

At least some Board of Education members are saying they had not been informed that the new options catalog was going to include charter schools.

“I didn’t even know that it was coming. As a board member, that really bothers me,” said Roseann Torres, who represents District 5 on the board.

“We were elected to do policy and direct the superintendent, not the reverse.”

“We are public schools, and by law we are supposed to serve all students. But the majority of charter schools are not there to educate all.

The catalog is published annually by the OUSD Student Assignment Office. This year’s edition cost $78,000 to produce.

Jorge Lerma

Jorge Lerma

Parents and school activists who have been critical of the district’s increased support for charter schools are finding the new catalog disturbing.

According to opponents, for a charter to say they do not offer these services, they are in effect telling parents of English Language Learners and special education students they should not bother to apply to their schools.

Meanwhile the district – by promoting these charters – is giving a green light to practices that are discriminatory, potentially illegal and move toward the consolidation of a two-tier public school system, say opponents.

Jorge Lerma, a member of the board of the Latino Education Network (LEN) in Oakland and former OUSD administrator, says the new system may end up shortchanging the students it is supposed to help.

“Superficially, it seems like it is going to offer a wider menu for parents to choose from, but it ends up excluding the students who are most in need of support,” said Lerma.

“These charters don’t say we’ll work with you – we’ll help figure what your children need. They’re saying they don’t offer these services,” he said.

“Public money is supposed to serve the public,” continued Lerma. “That means taxpayers. But if you’re using tax money to create little enclaves, you’re defeating the purpose of public education.”

Dan Siegel, former school board member and a former general counsel for the district, criticized the superintendent and school board for promoting charter schools.

“It’s completely outrageous that they are doing this,” he said. “They are promoting the destruction of the public school system in the City of Oakland, and they are promoting a system of education that discriminates against English language learners—who are a big portion of children in the district, and students with special needs—who are disproportionately low-income African American students.”

While discriminatory policies of charters and the district promotion might violate the law, there are few or no cases where these practices have been challenged in court – so far, he said.

Under the state education code “admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations (of charter schools) shall not charge tuition, and shall not discriminate against any pupil.”

Ismael Armendariz, an OUSD special education teacher and a member of the teachers’ union executive board, says he was upset by the implied message sent out by the district that many of the charter schools will not accept special education students.

“This (catalog) is going out to thousands of parents and children. If I were a parent and looking at that message, I wouldn’t apply to that school. I’d skip it. It’s going to discourage them.”

He said that he had a student this year, a good student who works hard, who came from a charter school and had been encouraged to leave because the school said it did not have the resources to help him.

“I come from a community and family who weren’t not always given the best support. It’s really hurtful to me when my students don’t have access to all the opportunities other students have.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 12, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)