ACLU of Delaware and the Community Legal Aide Society, Inc., file complaint with the US DOE citing disparity in charter school policies; Delaware DOE and Red Clay School District named in complaint

Delaware’s current charter school laws and individual policies are leading to a racial and economic disparity among students of color and those with disabilities, according to a complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware.

On Wednesday, Dec. 3, representatives from the ACLU, and the Community Legal Aid Society, Inc., filed a complaint with the US Department of Education against the Delaware Department of Education and the Red Clay Consolidated School District – the two entities that authorize state public charter schools.

According to ACLU of Delaware Executive Director Kathleen MacRae, the complaint states that the two agencies are in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Representatives from both Red Clay and the Delaware DOE said that they have yet to completely review the allegations, having only been informed of the citation on Tuesday, Dec. 2.

MacRae said that the Charter School Act of 1995 has created a state-sanctioned atmosphere of “preferential treatment” for families able to navigate the sometimes complex charter school admission policies.

Those policies, according to MacRae, include high test scores, parental essays, activity fees, high-cost uniform fees and mandatory parental involvement – all factors that the complaint says are discriminatory.

“Today over 75 percent of the charter schools operating in Delaware are racially identifiable,” MacRae said.

A declaration attached to the complaint by Newark resident Eve Buckley, identified as a professor of history at the University of Delaware and a parent of an elementary student in the Christiana School District, specifically cites the admission policies of the Newark Charter School as more closely aligned with private school policies.

“Parents of Newark Charter School students are pressured by the school community to volunteer and contribute financially to the school’s success, although that is difficult for lower-income families because of the financial and time constraints faced by lower-income families,” Buckley said.

She also cited a lack of a cafeteria – making it impossible to service students who receive federal subsidies for free or reduced lunch – and sibling preference when accepting new students as other policies that work against students of color or with disabilities.

The ACLU and CLASI ask for a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools until an “effective desegregation plan” is implemented, as well as other assurances that individual policies would not discriminate against students on a racial, economic or special needs basis.

“Every student in the state of Delaware has the right to the best education possible,” MacRae said, adding that those rights mean equal access to quality education.

New Castle County Council Member Jae Street, 10th District, said that the filing of the complaint was a bold step in addressing the disparity, adding that – decades after the landmark “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka” US Supreme Court decision ending public school desegregation – the current charter school policies are creating a new millennium of segregation.

“This is not only a New Castle County problem – this is statewide,” Street said, now in his 41st year as a student advocate. He later added, “I support this and I appreciate this (complaint).”

Red Clay Public Information Officer Pati Nash said that the district is now and always has been committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion in their schools.

“We will continue to be guided by those principles,” Nash said. “And continue providing an excellent education to our students and the community we serve.”

“We are committed to providing access to great educational opportunities for every Delaware student, from birth through higher education, and we are proud of the academic progress our low-income students and children of color have made in recent years, including by closing the gap between minority and non-minority students,” said Alison May, press spokesperson for the Delaware DOE.

May said that the state’s efforts to expand access has doubled the number of low-income children in “high-quality” early childhood programs, and has helped 100 percent of the state’s college-ready students apply to college regardless of their income.

“We will continue to expand and accelerate our efforts to make great education a reality for all of our students,” she said.

The next step in the process, according to ACLU of Delaware Legal Director Richard Morse, is for the US Office of Civil Rights and the US DOE to investigate the claims outlined in the complaint.

“We have sent them a 40-page complaint,” Morse said. “They will do their investigation to see if they do, in fact, agree with us – and I think they will.”