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10:37 AM Wed, Nov. 21st

ACLU blisters the Arizona charter school system

Kingman Academy of Learning Middle School was included in an enrollment study by the ACLU. KAOL and the Arizona Charter Schools Association were not impressed by the ACLU’s efforts.

Photo by Shawn Byrne.

Kingman Academy of Learning Middle School was included in an enrollment study by the ACLU. KAOL and the Arizona Charter Schools Association were not impressed by the ACLU’s efforts.

KINGMAN – The ACLU of Arizona concluded that “many Arizona charter schools have unlawful or discriminatory enrollment policies” in a report the civil rights organization released Dec. 14.

Kingman Academy of Learning is a charter district with four schools in its system. ACLU concluded that 56 percent of Arizona schools “have policies that are clear violations of the law or discourage the enrollment of certain students.”

Arizona Charter Schools Association president and CEO Eileen Sigmund told the Arizona Republic “the report makes broad-brush accusations that are misleading or unsupported by evidence.

The reason is simple,” she continued. “The ACLU has an anti-charter agenda.”

KAOL executive director Susan Chan wasn’t impressed with the ACLU’s efforts either.

“My first impression was, ‘What is the point of the research?’” Chan said. “Is it to inform the public or cast a shadow on charter schools?”

KAOL’s middle school was included in the report with the ACLU using the following criteria: academic requirements, special education and disability requirements, behavior requirements, English language proficiency requirements, Social Security and birth certificate requirements, pre-enrollment interview and essay requirements, parental requirements, and fees and deposits.

ACLU found no discrepancies at KAOL in special education, pre-enrollment and parental requirements, and with fees and deposits.

KAOL was dinged for asking for a student’s Social Security number on its enrollment form.

“We do ask,” Chan responded, “but it’s up to the parents to provide it if they want.”

ACLU also documented that KAOL does not provide Spanish-English enrollment documents.

“We don’t provide a form in Spanish, but if we’re asked we’ll gladly provide it,” Chan said.

The third of four areas where the ACLU gave KAOL a negative mark was in the criterion “pre-enrollment academic requirement.” The ACLU said it gave KAOL an (S) for suppressive language because it “required students to provide academic documents, such as transcripts and report cards, without a disclaimer that it was for post-enrollment placement purposes.”

Chan said KAOL uses academic records to place students, as the school district has no other way of doing so. She was taken aback as to how the ACLU collected its information about KAOL.

“They never even talked to us,” she explained. “They based their assumptions on one piece of paper taken off of our website.”

The most severe grade ACLU handed out was a (V) for violation. It said KAOL was in violation by having behavior requirements in order to enroll in the system.

“We categorized schools as having a violation … if enrollment was conditioned upon a review of a student’s discipline records,” the report read.

“We ask if the student has ever been considered for expulsion or if they have ever been expelled,” Chan said.

KAOL would deny entry if this was the case, the executive director explained.

One misconception in the community is the way KAOL selects its students. By law, KAOL is allowed to give preference to returning students and their siblings, children of school employees and board members, and children in foster care.

The remaining spots are chosen in a lottery. One area where some may perceive a slight is when a new family moves to Kingman with a high school student who has younger siblings. There hasn’t been a wait list for Kingman Academy High School in years, so that student would be immediately placed.

“The younger brothers and sisters would go on the sibling list, so they could get in sooner,” Chan said. “We follow the laws regarding enrollment and enrollment preferences.”