Arne Duncan and President Obama (By Yuri Gripas/ Reuters) Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama (Yuri Gripas/ Reuters)

The Obama administration has just released through the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights what it says is “new guidance confirming that the same federal civil rights laws that apply to other public schools apply equally to public charter schools.”

For years, the administration has pushed states to allow the growth of charter schools through its Race to the Top funding competition. And for years, there have been complaints around the country that some charter schools have discriminatory practices in admissions, discipline, etc.

This week, a national organization called the Journey for Justice Alliance filed civil rights complaints with the federal government and asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to investigate “racially discriminatory school closings” in New Orleans. Furthermore, there is evidence that the growth of charter schools is leading to increasing segregation by race, ethnicity and income.

Finally, the Education Department is issuing its new guidance during the week in which the country is marking the 60th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that struck down the “‘separate but equal” doctrine. According to a release by the Education Department:

The new guidance highlights critical subjects that have arisen in charter schools, including the schools’ obligations to avoid discrimination in admissions practices and the administration of discipline; to provide a free appropriate public education for students with disabilities; and to take affirmative steps to assist English learners. The guidance also points to other OCR publications regarding additional civil rights principles that are equally applicable to charter schools. [Emphasis is mine]

(“Have arisen?”  That makes it sound like the complaints are new. They aren’t.) The department release also quotes Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, as saying:

“Charter schools play an important role in the educational landscape and are serving more and more students all over the country. Since our last guidance on the topic in 2000, thousands of new charter schools have opened. This guidance underscores that charter schools must satisfy the requirements of the federal civil rights laws.”

Now that the department says charters “must satisfy the requirements of the federal civil rights laws,” it will be interesting to see how it enforces the mandate. Here’s the guidance:

Colleague 201405 Charter[1]