New Orleans charter schools supported by such high-profile philanthropists as Oprah Winfrey have come under fire for allegedly discriminating against students with disabilities, according to Bloomberg.
New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy, which received a $1-million gift from the talk-show host’s Oprah Angel Network a year ago, is among schools now battling complaints from families who say their disabled children have not been served. Local charter schools supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates and Wal-Mart foundations have faced similar complaints.
Federal law requires all public schools, including charters, serve students with disabilities, but it can be costly. “There’s no incentive to take these kids,” says Thomas Hehir, who oversaw special-education programs in the Clinton administration. “If you can avoid educating them, there are other things you can do with the money. You can pay people more or reduce class size.”
About 4 percent of American schoolchildren attend charter schools, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in Washington. In New Orleans, where charter schools were created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, that figure is 70 percent.
Last October, 10 families filed a federal special-education discrimination suit against the State of Louisiana, with complaints about both charter schools and conventional public schools. Los Angeles and Washington also face court cases claiming systemic discrimination in charter schools against children who require special education.