Charter School Allegedly Forces Out Students With Disabilities

CREDIT: Mike Groll, AP

Eva Moskowitz of Success Academy Charter Schools during a charter school rally outside the state Capitol on Wednesday, March 4, 2015, in Albany, N.Y.

Success Academy Charter Schools, a well-known charter school network in New York City, is being accused of discriminating against students with disabilities, according to a complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

The group of parents who filed the complaint say that the school’s strict rules pushed some of them to withdraw their children, and cite 13 students with disabilities whom they claim were over-disciplined there. A few other organizations — including MFY Legal Services, the Partnership for Children’s Rights, the Legal Aid Society, and the New York Legal Assistance Group — also joined the parents’ complaint.

Success Academy Charter Schools, which operates 34 schools in New York City, has been around for a decade. But for years, the charter schools network has been dogged with accusations that its success is owed in part to its ability to force out students who struggle to work in a controlled, zero-tolerance environment.

According to a recent New York Times investigation, one mother said her daughter’s name was on a list of 16 names shared by administrators with the heading “Got to Go,” and nine of those children were later withdrawn from the school after a slew of suspensions and meetings with school officials. The story also reports that former staff say they did not automatically send annual re-enrollment forms to certain students because the school did not want them back.

In response to the Times, a spokesperson for the school said that Success Academy staff were reprimanded for the list and added that “some on the list required special education settings that Success could not offer them.”

Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy charter schools, says the network’s student discipline policies are meant to keep students safe and that parents are simply making excuses for their children’s bad behavior. This is typically Moskowitz’s response against these types of allegations. After PBS NewsHour released a segment on student discipline that focused on suspension of kindergarteners at the charter school network, Moskowitz made the discipline records of the only named student in the PBS piece available to the public.

PBS NewsHour reporter John Merrow told Slate that at one of the Success Academy schools, as many as 44 kindergarteners and first-graders out of 203 received out-of-school suspensions in one year. Merrow has also reported that Success Academy Charter schools have suspension rates that are almost three times higher than in traditional public K-12 schools in the city.

According to the charter school’s website, 76 percent of students are from low-income households, 93 percent are students of color, 12 percent have special needs, and 8.5 percent are English language learners. Extensive research shows that the student populations Success Academy serves are disproportionately likely to be suspended.

For instance, black students are 1.78 times more likely and Latino students are 2.23 times more likely to face suspension, according to a report by the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative. Students with disabilities are also punished more, especially if they’re black. A student’s race can affect how teachers judge their misbehavior, according to a recent Stanford University study.

The Huffington Post reports that the Success Academy has a pretty long list of student infractions — there are 65 infractions across a few levels of violations, including minor violations such as slouching or forgetting to bring a pencil. The infractions escalate by level all the way up to level 4, which includes repeated violation of minor infractions as well as noncompliance with the dress code and bullying. Students can be immediately expelled from school if they have level 3 or 4 infractions.