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

Archived Information

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

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:

  • Review its admissions policies, procedures and practices to identify any potential barriers to increased participation by ELL students and students with disabilities and, as needed and following OCR review and approval, modify its admission policies, procedures and practices to ensure equal access and equal opportunity for ELL students and students with disabilities to HPS charter schools.
  • Develop an "ELL Communication Plan" to ensure meaningful access to LEP parents with respect to student admissions and enrollment in HPS charter schools, including through interpretation and translation services.
  • Implement a comprehensive plan for all HPS charter schools regarding the provision of services to ELL students that appropriately identifies and assesses ELL students for language development services and provides these services to the students; appropriately staffs and provides instructional resources to HPS' English-as-a-second-language (ESL) program; that its ESL program, ensures that ELL students are appropriately exited and monitored; and evaluates the overall HPS alternative language program.
  • Review and revise existing evaluation and placement procedures for students with disabilities to ensure that students are evaluated with appropriate evaluation materials and that schools properly document the educational needs of students in their records.
  • Collect and evaluate data on an ongoing basis to assess data related to the acceptance of students for admission to its charter schools in order to determine whether ELL students and students with disabilities are accepted at lower rates than other students and, if so, take necessary action to ensure that its admissions policies and procedures are fair and equitable. And,
  • Provide training to administrators and relevant staff at all HPS charter schools regarding revisions to its admissions and enrollment policies and procedures, communications with LEP parents, and language assistance services for ELL students and communication and outreach to LEP students and parents/guidance about admission to the HPS charter schools.

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.