Charter schools that admit only boys or only girls will be allowed to open in New Jersey under revised rules for charter schools, clearing the path for proposed schools in Paterson and Atlantic City.
The state will approve single-gender charter schools if they serve educationally disadvantaged or traditionally underserved students, according to rules passed by the state Board of Education on Wednesday.
Applicants for a single-gender school must prove a compelling educational reason for limiting enrollment on the basis of gender, the rules say.
The decision comes as the state considers applications for two all-boys charter schools. If approved, the schools will become the first single-gender charter schools in state history, department spokesman David Saenz said.
Currently, there are at least two single-sex public schools in the state, Newark Public Schools opened an all-boys schools in 2012 and an all-girls school in 2013. There are single-gender schools, both traditional and charter throughout the country.
But such schools have also come with legal challenges, and the state's largest teachers union predicted problems may arise in the Garden State.
"They could potentially violate civil rights protections," said Meredith Barnes, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Education Association.
The state's current charter school rules do not forbid single-gender charter schools, but they don't explicitly allow them either, Saenz said. The new rules stipulate that any single-gender school must comply with state and federal laws.
To move to allows single-gender charter school is part a of a wider charter school deregulation plan proposed by Gov. Chris Christie last year.
The most controversial part of that proposal, a pilot program for lowering certification standards for charter school teachers and administrators, was rejected by the state Board of Education in February.
The board on Wednesday approved the remaining elements of that proposal.
Other notable rule changes include:
- Charter schools will be able to guarantee that students who attend pre-K at the charter school will have a seat for kindergarten.
- The state will allow charter schools to enter into lease agreements that last longer than the schools are approved to operate.
- The Department of Education will maintain a list of vacant public school buildings that charter schools can attempt to rent.
- Renovations and improvements at charter school buildings can be paid for with state and local funds.
- Charter schools in any district will be allowed to operate satellite campuses.
The rules also make official several practices that are already in place, including allowing charter schools to hold weighted lotteries to try to increase diversity.
Christie said he proposed the new rules to alleviate burdensome red tape for charters. But he also tightened some restrictions.
The state will have more oversight when charter schools close, charter schools will now be required to post public meeting notices and minutes on their websites, and the state will begin publishing annual reports on each charter's school's performance.
The New Jersey Charter Schools supported the rules, which it said balance increased oversight with autonomy.