It's true that Colorado's charter schools serve less students with special needs when compared to noncharter public schools. Colorado's charter schools serve seven percent while the state average is ten percent. However, the percentage of students served by charter schools has increased over the years. But it's not where it should be.
Jeremy Meyer and Bart Hubbard, with the Denver Post, wrote about this disparity and acknowledged there were some exceptions within the charter school community. The Rocky Mountain Deaf School is 100% students with special needs as all of the students are hearing impaired and learn American Sign Language as a part of the curriculum. Vanguard Classical School in Aurora took some time to get approved because it intended to serve high-needs students and about twice the number of students with special needs as their district. To some in the realm of Special Education, this couldn't be allowed since it would not be "the least restrictive environment" (LRE) and therefore the student's wouldn't have a "free and appropriate public education" (FAPE). Eventually, with assurance that the charter school would individually evaluate each student for the appropriateness of placement in the charter school, the charter was approved.
The Denver Post article inaccurately states that the Charter School Special Education Advisory Committee was established just two years ago. In fact, the committee was established in 2001 and has addressed a variety of issues over the years including online education, funding for charter schools serving students with Special Ed plans, and technical assistance for school district Special Education directors and charter school administrators.
Most recently the committee tackled the controversial subject of reports that a few districts were limiting the types of students who could attend charter schools they had authorized. This came in the form of charter contract language and verbal direction from school district staff. The committee discussed that whether incidents such as this were practiced due to the school district or the charter school, it was not an acceptable practice. The committee discussed a position paper that will eventually be distributed to the general public, school districts and charter schools.
But the issue, as a whole, balances two competing positions: 1) what is the right of the school district to economically serve students in center-based programs or with minimal services, and 2) the right of the student/parent to have a public education that best suits the student's unique needs? This issue is especially relevant to any disabled student who wants to enroll in any choice school in Colorado; not just charter schools.
I've heard all of the issues from both sides. As a parent of two sons who were on Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) my opinion is probably skewed by personal experiences. In the early years of Jefferson Academy, the board dealt with this issue when the administrator posed a question to the board about where to draw the line with individual students with significant needs. The district had an opinion, but the administrator wanted to know the school's philosophy. Of the seven original JA board members, five of us had students with IEPs. Further, one of the primary factors driving our starting the charter school was so that parents could have a meaningful role in their child's education. Therefore, we drafted a policy stating that ultimately the decision would rest with the parents of the affected student.