Complaint alleges discrimination in charter school admissions

A Boise-based nonprofit has filed a federal discrimination complaint against Idaho’s charter school system.

“Idaho’s charter school system has evolved into an unequal public school system that discriminates against students of color, LEP students, students with disabilities (many of whom are Latino), and students from low-income families,” the Centro de Comunidad y Justicia said in its complaint, filed Monday with the U.S. Department of Education’s Seattle office.

In the complaint, the CCJ seeks an investigation of the state’s 48 charter schools, the State Department of Education and the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, the governing body overseeing many of the state’s charter schools.

Said Jeff Church, a spokesman for state superintendent Sherri Ybarra:”The Idaho Department of Education is open to a review of the charter school processes to ensure equity, and to ensure that all students have the opportunity to attend an Idaho public charter school regardless of race, color, national origin, ethnicity or disability.”

Blake Youde — a spokesman for the State Board of Education, which oversees the charter school commission — declined comment Wednesday. He said board members have not seen the complaint, and as of Tuesday evening, charter commission members hadn’t seen it either.

But the complaint comes less than a month after the commission released an annual report that acknowledged demographic gaps in the state’s charter school enrollment.

Surveying the 35 schools under its jurisdiction, the commission found that 90 percent of the charters served a lower percentage of non-white students than their adjacent school districts. Limited English Proficiency students were underserved at 87 percent of charters, students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch were underserved at 77 percent of charters and special education students were underserved at 55 percent of charters.

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More reading: Here are two recent guest opinions on the charter school demographics debate, from Caldwell special education teacher Levi Cavener, and from Terry Ryan of the Idaho Charter School Network.