U.S. Education Department Reaches Agreement with Texas' Harmony Public Schools to Ensure Equal Access for English Language Learner Students and Students with Disabilities

From the U.S. Department of Education, November 26, 2014

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced today that it has entered into a resolution agreement with Harmony Public Schools in Texas, to ensure compliance by its charter schools with federal civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, national origin and disability.

Harmony operates a network of 43 public charter schools throughout Texas serving over 28,000 students. The agreement ends the Department's investigation and commits Harmony to providing English language learner (ELL) students and students with disabilities with equal access to and equal opportunity to participate in the Harmony charter schools in Texas.

"Like all public schools, Harmony's charter schools must be open to all students, including ELL students and students with disabilities, and must provide students with the important educational services they need to fully participate in the schools' educational programs," said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. "OCR will work closely with Harmony as it implements this agreement for the benefit of thousands of current and future charter school students in Texas."

OCR's investigation confirmed that ELL students and students with disabilities were significantly underrepresented in Harmony's charter schools compared to their enrollment in the public school districts in which the charter schools were located. The enrollment rate of the 1,152 ELL students at the 18 Harmony charter schools specifically examined by OCR for the 2011-12 school year was approximately half that at the local school districts (11.5 percent compared to 22.5 percent) and the enrollment rate of the 273 students with disabilities was even lower (2.7 percent compared to 7.3 percent).

OCR's investigation further uncovered admissions and enrollment policies at HPS charter schools that provide that HPS may exclude students with disciplinary problems and also require students to provide enrollment documentation that may chill or discourage the participation of students based on their or their parents' or guardian's citizenship or immigration status. Not all HPS schools provided translation of admission materials or interpreter services at open house events for limited English proficient (LEP) parents.

OCR's investigation also revealed that HPS policies and procedures do not ensure that, once admitted, students will receive adequate educational services, including language development for ELL students and special education and related services for students with disabilities.

Under the agreement, Harmony will:

A copy of the resolution letter can be found here, and the agreement is posted here.

OCR's mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of disability, race, color, national origin, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001.

For details on how OCR handles civil rights cases, please click here.


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