Last Wednesday, 13 New York City parents filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The parents claim that New York’s Success Academy Charter Schools have persistently violated the rights of students with special needs. Success Academy Charters, as charter schools receiving public funding, are required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to protect the rights of children who need special learning accommodations.
Here are the allegations from the complaint as filed: “Complainants allege that Success Academy engages in policies and practices throughout their network which violate students’ rights under Section 504 and the IDEA, including but not limited to:
- Success Academy discriminates against students with disabilities by failing to identify them or provide them with reasonable accommodations;
- Success Academy discriminates and retaliates against students with disabilities by taking measures to coerce them to leave Success Academy when they require or may require services related to a disability;
- Success Academy fails to comply with the disciplinary due process rights of students;
- Success Academy fails to refer students who have or may have a disability for appropriate evaluations at public expense; and
- Success Academy fails to provide parents with meaningful notice regarding their rights, inter alia, to programs, supports and accommodations.”
Joining the parents in filing the formal complaint are The Public Advocate for the City of New York; Council Member Daniel Dromm; The Legal Aid Society; MFY Legal Services, Inc.; Partnership for Children’s Rights; and New York Legal Assistance Group.
Juan Gonzalez, reporter for the New York Daily News, describes the comments of two of the parents who filed the complaint and agreed to be interviewed. In both instances, evaluations of the children’s special education needs determined that the children have serious learning disabilities and recommended that they be placed in classes of no more than 12 students. One school has placed the child whose parent has joined the complaint on a waiting list for a smaller class, though after two years, such a class has not been found for him. Instead he was required to repeat first grade. Staff at his school have recently recommended his needs would be better met in a NYC public school. The other child, a girl who had been receiving speech and physical therapy in pre-school, was held back at a Success Academy in Kindergarten and again in first grade. After the parent had her child independently evaluated, an assessment in which additional special learning needs were identified, the child has been moved to a special school and her education is being paid for by the public schools, but the child was ill-served over a period of years at the Success Academy.
Gonzalez concludes his report: “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.”
Last Friday in the NY Times, Kate Taylor published the description by Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, of her philosophy of education: “Ms. Moskowitz… discussed her educational philosophy and said that her approach was based on ‘a different view of children’ from that of the larger culture, which she described as seeking to shield children from any negative feelings. She argued that the desire to protect children led Americans to resist setting high academic standards, because doing so would lead to some children falling short. Of Success’s approach, she said: ‘We find in schooling that kids are resilient. You know, they sometimes get upset when they don’t do well, and many people think that’s a tragedy. But… Olympic athletes, when they don’t do well, they sometimes cry. It’s not the end of the world.'”