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Students with Disabilities in Charter Schools

California Department of Education
Official Letter
California Department of Education
Official Letter
December 27, 2017

Dear Charter School Operators, Charter School Authorizers, and Special Education Local Plan Area Directors:

Enrollment of Students with Disabilities in Charter Schools

Federal law and regulation prohibit any public school, including public charter schools, from denying admission to any student on the basis of a disability, or the nature of or extent of a disability. More specifically, a student with disabilities must be afforded the opportunity to participate in a charter school (Title 34, Code of Federal Regulations [34 CFR] Section 104.4[b][1][i]; Section 504, Vocational Rehabilitation Act; Title II, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; California Government Code Section 11135; California Education Code [EC] Section 220). Further, EC Section 47605[d][1] states a charter school “shall not discriminate against a pupil on the basis of the characteristics listed in [EC] Section 220 [including disability].” “A charter school shall admit all pupils who wish to attend the [charter] school” (EC Section 47605[d][2][A]) except as provided by those provisions related to a public random drawing. Despite the existence or lack of a program for a student with disabilities at a charter school, enrollment may not be denied (34 CFR Section 104.4[b][3]; EC Section 47646[a]).

Students with disabilities who attend public charter schools and their families retain all the rights and protections that Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides, just as they would if the students were enrolled in traditional California public schools (34 CFR Section 300.209[a]). This law applies whether the charter school operates as a local educational agency (LEA) in a special education local plan area (SELPA) or as a school of the LEA that granted the charter (EC Section 47641).

When a charter school is a school of an LEA (EC Section 47641[a]), the LEA is responsible for ensuring that children with disabilities in the charter school are provided a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in a manner consistent with the requirements of IDEA and conforms to California statutes and regulations. To that end, authorizing LEAs must provide charter schools with an equitable share of special education services, funding, or both. In most cases, the LEA will assume full responsibility for providing services to students in the charter schools at either the charter school campus or at a traditional public school campus within the district. In exchange for serving students enrolled in the charter school, the LEA may retain the full amount of state and federal special education funds that it receives from the SELPA on behalf of each charter school; however, LEAs and charter schools are not precluded from entering into Memorandums of Understanding that grant charter schools more autonomy, responsibility, and funding to provide special education and related services.

When a charter school is its own independent LEA member of a SELPA for special education purposes, the charter school is solely responsible for implementing all state and federal special education requirements and for complying with all applicable laws and regulations pertaining to students with disabilities.

Students with disabilities enrolled in charter schools must receive services in the same manner and to the same extent as traditional schools (34 CFR Section 300.209[b][1][i]). To ensure that adequate resources are available, monies apportioned for the purposes of special education must be expended exclusively for special education programs (EC Section 56836.04[b]).

If violations of special education statutes and regulations are alleged, complainants can request direct state intervention to investigate the specific allegation(s) by contacting the Procedural Safeguards Referral Service Unit by phone at 1-800-926-0648, or by mail at:

Procedural Safeguards Referral Service
Special Education Division
California Department of Education
1430 N Street, Suite 2401
Sacramento, CA 95814-5901

Complaints regarding discrimination may also be filed with the Office of Civil Rights at:

Office for Civil Rights
San Francisco Office
U.S. Department of Education
50 United Nations Plaza
San Francisco, CA 94102
Telephone: 415-486-5555
Fax: 415-486-5570

If you have any questions regarding this subject, please contact the Focused Monitoring and Technical Assistance Consultant for your region. This information can be found on the California Department of Education FMTA Contact Information Web page at


Thomas Adams, Ph.D.
Deputy Superintendent
Teaching and Learning Support Branch

Nick Schweizer
Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction
Systems Support Branch

Last Reviewed: Monday, February 12, 2024

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