Is a charter school a public school or a private school?

It’s rare to see a case involving the same parties result in three separate Circuit Court rulings, but that’s what’s happened in Antioch USD in California.  Each of the decisions is short and makes one relevant point. Thus they are perfect fodder for the Daily Dawg! So yesterday I told you about the Circuit Court decision that had “Toolbox” implications. Today and tomorrow we will dive into the other decisions involving the same parties.  

What, exactly, are charter schools?  Are they public schools? Are they private schools?  Issues like that are decided by state law, but this case seems relevant for us because California, like Texas, considers charter schools to be public schools. That means that when a child is enrolled in a charter school, it’s the charter school that takes on the duty to provide FAPE. 

If parents enroll their child in a private school, the local traditional school district retains the duty to “find” the child.  The public school is not responsible for providing FAPE until the child enrolls in the public school, but parents have the right to see what FAPE would look like in the public school. Thus upon request, the school is required to develop an IEP for the parents to consider.

But that didn’t help these parents when they sued the traditional public school district for an alleged denial of FAPE.  The problem for the parents was that they had enrolled their child in a charter school. The court cited the federal regulation that requires a traditional school district to “locate, identify and evaluate” children who attend a private school that is located in the geographical boundaries of the school district, and then noted that:

These regulations have no application here because it is undisputed that N.F. was enrolled in a public charter school, not a private institution.

Texas law is equally clear on this point. Charter schools are part of the public education system. Thus a child enrolled in the charter should be receiving FAPE from the charter, and should not look to the traditional school to provide FAPE. 

It’s N.F. v. Antioch USD, decided by the 9th Circuit on April 15, 2022. It’s published in Special Educator at 80 IDELR 267.


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Tomorrow: one more from Antioch…