To enroll in the Public Safety Academy in San Bernardino, students had to submit satisfactory scores from California standardized English and math tests and, to stay in, maintain a 2.0 grade point average.
Both policies violate state law because the academy is a public charter school, according to lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Charter schools are exempt from most laws in the Education Code, but the laws that apply say they have to admit all students,” said ACLU lawyer Jessica Price, and they must “serve all students who wish to attend.”
The admission policies of the school, which prepares students for public safety careers such as police work, are found in the student handbook. Efforts to dismiss students with low grades were evident in school documents obtained by the ACLU.
The school did not immediately respond when asked how many students had been dismissed since its founding in 2000. But in 2013, the school said it sent letters to families of 23 students whose grade-point average had fallen below 2.0 for one semester. The letters advised students to enroll in another school and turn in their books.
However, after the ACLU brought the violation to the school's attention, those letters were rescinded, according to Principal Jennifer Stickel.
The school “wants all of its students to succeed academically so they can graduate from high school and build a bright future. To that end, PSA has in place many supports to assist students who are struggling academically,” Stickel wrote in a December 2014 letter to the ACLU.
“It is important to note that PSA does not expel students for unsatisfactory academics. This means that students removed and remanded to their home school district for failure to make academic improvement may immediately enroll in another public school, with no delay in their education,” Stickel wrote.
Soon after that correspondence, both sides met and the school agreed to remove the minimum grade and enrollment requirements from its policies.
This school year, administrators did not send letters dismissing students for low grades, Stickel told KPCC by email, though the school did send warnings to 17 low-performing students.
"We believe personal character, hard work, and perseverance are essential to success. A student performing at a 1.3 GPA may have difficulty competing in any job market, let alone public safety," she wrote.
Other charter schools may have similar policies, ACLU said.
“We’ve heard rumors that it’s happening elsewhere, but we know that a lot of people have been afraid to come forward,” Price said. “We also want folks in the San Bernardino area to know that it’s not supposed to be happening anymore.”
The minimum GPA requirement is not a common policy among charter schools, according to the California Charter Schools Association, the group that advocates for charter schools.
“Charter schools have explicit reasons for which students may be dismissed which are articulated as part of the petitioning process approved and monitored by their authorizers,” spokeswoman Emily Bertelli said in an email. She added the association does not believe that a student should be excluded from a charter school after getting low grades.