Source: NY Daily News
By Juan Gonzalez
The city’s largest charter school chain has been violating the civil rights of students with disabilities for years, a group of parents say in a formal complaint lodged Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Education.
The parents of 13 special needs students claim the Success Charter Network, which is run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, “has engaged in ongoing systemic policies that violate” federal laws protecting the disabled. It cites eight Success schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx where the parents’ children were enrolled.
The allegations include:
- refusing to provide special education pupils appropriate services required by law, while often retaining the students to repeat a grade;
- multiple suspensions of students without keeping formal records of all those actions, without the due process required by federal law, and without providing alternative instruction;
- harassing parents to transfer their children back into regular public schools; and even calling 911 to have children as young as 5 transported to emergency rooms when parents don’t pick them up immediately as requested.
“Charter schools like Success Academy should follow the same rules as traditional public schools and protect — not punish — children with disabilities,” Public Advocate Letitia James said.
James joined the complaint, as did City Councilman Daniel Dromm, chair of the council’s Education Committee, and five private non-profit legal advocacy groups. All are calling for federal action.
The charter network did not immediately address the specific allegations.
“We are not in a position to comment on a complaint that we have not seen,” Ann Powell, a spokeswoman for Success Charter Network, said. “We are proud to serve 1,400 students who have special needs.”
The complainants are identified only by letters of the alphabet.
One parent who agreed to be interviewed, Katie Jackson, has a 9-year-old son who began attending kindergarten at Harlem Success 2 in August 2011 and is still enrolled there.
According to the complaint, Jackson’s son, Josiah Dent-Beckett, was diagnosed with several learning disabilities while in first grade and was placed in a general education class that also had a second special ed co-teacher. At the end of that year, the school required him to repeat the first grade.
“He was in a class with 32 students and it was too much for him,” Jackson said. She asked for a smaller class but was told her son had to go on a waiting list.
“It’s now two, going on three years and he’s still on the waiting list,” Jackson said. “Meanwhile, he’s fallen more behind in school.”
In November, a new evaluation of the boy recommended a smaller class of only 12 students. But according to the complaint, Success administrators told Jackson they had no such class available, and instead were arranging for him to be transferred to a public school.
“The principal told me right to my face, ‘If he comes back next year he will be left back again,’” Jackson said.
Another case describes a girl, identified only as “Student N,” who enrolled in kindergarten at Harlem Success 1 in August 2010. She was already receiving speech and physical therapy in preschool and those services continued at Success, according to the complaint. The school held her back in kindergarten for a second year, then kept her in first grade for two years, but it “never referred N for additional evaluations to further assess her learning difficulties,” the complaint said.
In April 2014, the parent obtained an independent evaluation. It found her daughter had several more disabilities and recommended she be placed in a special ed class of only 12 students, one teacher and one aide. Harlem 1 told the parent it could not provide that setting, according to the complaint, and “threatened to hold N over yet again in first grade if she did not leave school.” The girl now attends a specialized non-public school paid for by the city’s Department of Education.
In response to growing cries nationwide that charter school operators are pushing out special needs pupils, the U.S. Department of Education reminded school systems in March 2014 that federal law requires “all students with disabilities in a public school, including a public charter school, be provided appropriate regular or special education and related aids and services ...to meet his or her individual educational needs.”
Critics of Success Network have long suspected its astounding test scores — among the highest in the state — are made possible by its shedding of children with disabilities.
Those scores have greased the network’s rapid growth to 36 schools, garnered it tens of millions of dollars in private donations, and won effusive support from politicians in Albany.
But when your charter network gets to be as big and wealthy as many suburban school districts, what’s the excuse for not appropriately servicing your special needs students? Maybe a federal probe will find out.