Manhattan Times Focuses on Complaint Against Success Academy Charter Schools
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 27, 2016

The federal complaint against Success Academy Charter Schools for violating the rights of children with disabilities was the focus of an article in Manhattan Times, featuring the story of nine-year-old Josiah, a student at the Harlem school.

The suit alleges that Success Academy subjected students with perceived disabilities to numerous suspensions and detentions, and often held them back in their grades for multiple years.

“This takes an emotional toll on the kids, and puts them even further behind their peers,” said Susan J. Horwitz, Senior Staff Attorney at The Legal Aid Society, which represents several of the families involved in the suit.




Manhattan Times News
Suing Success
Civil rights suit filed against charter school network
Story and photos by Gregg McQueen

When she enrolled her nine-year-old son Josiah at Success Academy’s Harlem 2 location several years ago, the single mother thought she was fulfilling her dream of providing him with a quality education.

The school, which opened in 2008, is located on 144 East 128th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues. It serves students in kindergarten through fourth grade.

But, despite her initial optimism, Jackson says her experience at Success Academy has turned into a nightmare.

“One day when Josiah scored poorly on a test, the teacher made him hold up his test sheet in front of the entire class, with a big ‘F’ on it, until dismissal,” Jackson said.

The next day, Josiah, who has a learning disability, reported that he’d been teased by other students who had seen his failing grade.

“From that day, Josiah’s whole attitude towards school changed,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s story is similar to that of several other Success Academy families who are alleging that the charter network fails to provide reasonable accommodations to help students with learning disabilities.

On Wed., Jan. 20th, parents of 13 students, along with Public Advocate Letitia “Tish” James, City Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm and five legal assistance nonprofits, filed a federal civil rights complaint against Success Academy for systemic practices that violate the rights of children with disabilities.

“Every student in this city deserves an equitable, quality education,” said James upon filing of the suit. “That means that every school ― including Success Academy ― has a responsibility to teach and protect each and every child that walks through its doors, including those children with disabilities. We will not stand for the mistreatment and discrimination against our most vulnerable children and their families, and will hold any institution responsible for their actions so that all students can have the education they deserve.”

“Every student in this city deserves an equitable, quality education,” said Public Advocate Letitia “Tish” James.

In the civil rights complaint, families claim that Success Academy’s rigorous discipline policy disproportionately impacts students with disabilities.

The suit alleges that Success Academy subjected students with perceived disabilities to numerous suspensions and detentions, and often held them back in their grades for multiple years.

“This takes an emotional toll on the kids, and puts them even further behind their peers,” said Susan J. Horwitz, Senior Staff Attorney at The Legal Aid Society, which represents several of the families involved in the suit.

Parents filing the suit insist that their appeals to the charter network to help their children have gone unheeded.

The complaint details the experience of a 12-year-old student at Success Academy’s Harlem 5 location, who was made to repeat second grade three times before being given an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

When his mother felt his IEP was not being met and complained to the school principal, she was told to remove him from the school if she wanted him to have better support, said the complaint.

Jackson reported a similar experience ― she said that Harlem 2 personnel informed her that the school was unable to offer Josiah the services he required.

“”If you’re a publicly funded school, you’re required to have services for those students,” said Horwitz. “They have to follow the same rules as the public schools.”

The charter school network, which routinely outperforms district schools on standardized tests and maintains strict disciplinary policies, has faced off against similar criticisms in the past. Candido Brown, the principal of a Success Academy school in Brooklyn, was found to have compiled a list of 16 “Got to Go” students who were deemed too disruptive to remain. Though nine students on the list did leave the school, administrators, including Success Academy Chief Executive Officer Eva Moskowitz, dismissed it as an aberration – and not standard network policy.

A pro-charter school rally was held in October 2015.

Four families whose children were on the list later filed a federal suit against Success Academy, and it was announced in early January that Brown had taken a personal leave of absence.

“Success Academy has pulled the wool over the public’s eyes for far too long and in doing so violated children’s educational rights,” stated Councilmember Dromm. “It’s time they be held accountable for their enrollment, discipline and special education policies like every public school is.”

Success Academy is the city’s largest charter network, with 36 schools citywide, including 19 in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx.

The network receives federal and state funding, and receives free space from the city for all of its school locations.

In response to the civil rights complaint, CEO Moskowitz issued a statement.

“We provide 11,000 students, including over 1,400 special needs students, with an excellent education and have thousands more students on our waiting lists,” she asserted. “We are disappointed that these 13 families do not feel the needs of their children were met.”

Among its claims, the suit alleges that Success Academy discriminates and retaliates against students with disabilities by taking measures designed to influence them to leave the charter network.

“I feel like the teachers there bully the students,” stated Jackson. “My son feels bullied. He comes home and complains about the teachers, not the other students.”

Horwitz said that the charter network’s treatment of students who are struggling academically can fuel behavior problems, making a bad classroom situation worse.

“Often, when students with learning disabilities feel frustrated or withdrawn, they’re either going to act out or shut down,” said Horwitz. “Even students who had no previous history of behavioral issues can end up developing them over time.”

Jackson said that she doesn’t understand why Success Academy would allow the issues outlined in the complaint to fester, especially after complaints by concerned parents.

“These issues are an embarrassment to Success Academy,” said Jackson. “Why were they not addressed?”

According to Jackson, her son’s own IEP states that the child is supposed to have extra time to take tests, but that has not been provided. And though she sought to have him transferred to another Success Academy site with smaller class sizes, Josiah has been stuck on a waiting list for the past two years.

“This takes an emotional toll on the kids,” said Susan J. Horwitz, of The Legal Aid Society.

Despite her issues with Success Academy, Jackson has kept her son at Harlem 2, not wanting to put him through the stress of adjusting to another school mid-year.

“And Josiah said he wants to stick and out until June,” Jackson said. “They told me if he returns to school next year, he’d be held back.”

If Jackson pulls her son out of the charter network, it would be a huge disappointment, she said.

“I went to their rallies in Albany, with “Don’t Steal Possible” and all that,” Jackson remarked. “But I feel like I was fooled."