Thursday, November 29, 2018

Yet another legal complaint vs Success for violating students' civil rights - & this time, it's clear that DOE is culpable as well

Eva Moskowitz, Success Academy CEO, with her family

Advocates for Children filed a new complaint with the State Education Department about Success Academy’s failure to provide five special needs students with their mandated services and their right to a hearing before their placement is unilaterally changed, as required by state and federal law.  
This is yet one more example of many lawsuits and legal complaints against the charter network.
Success Academy officials violated civil rights laws when changing students’ special education services according to a complaint filed Thursday, resulting in some students suddenly changing classrooms and losing months of required instruction.
The complaint, filed with the state’s education department, alleges a pattern of school officials unilaterally changing special education placements without holding meetings with parents, moving students to lower grade levels, and even ignoring hearing officers’ rulings. In some cases, students were removed from classrooms that integrate special and general education students and sent to classrooms that only serve students with disabilities.
The complaint also targets the NYC Department of Education which, as AFC notes, is responsible for ensuring that Success abides by the law when it comes to providing special needs kids with their mandated services:
As the LEA, the DOE is responsible for ensuring that all procedural safeguards for students with disabilities at charter schools are followed, including implementation of pendency orders. [meaning they cannot change placements or services to special needs kids without due process].
In one case, the complaint outlines, “the DOE stated that the decisions to change M.L.’s placement were internal school matters over which the DOE had no control” and if the parent wanted to stop the illegal actions of Success, she would have to file a lawsuit in federal court to ask for a temporary restraining order.
...As a result of this lengthened process of first obtaining the pendency order at an impartial hearing and then needing to enforce the order in federal court, students with disabilities are losing ordered instruction time, solely because they attend a charter school…
Even when a hearing is held, the Success charter officials ignore the demands of the hearing officer. When the hearing officer ordered them to restore the previous placement to the student, "counsel for Success Academy replied, refusing to comply with M.L.’s Pendency Order and stating that: (1) M.L.’s Pendency Order was “legally erroneous” and (2) the impartial hearing officer did not have the authority to order M.L.’s return to her prior placement."
At no time the DOE defend the rights of the students involved, according to the complaint:
As the LEA for students with disabilities attending charter schools in New York City, the DOE is responsible for ensuring that all procedural safeguards for students with disabilities at charter schools are followed, including making sure that changes in placements occur only after duly constituted IEP meetings and prior written notice to the parent. The DOE, however, has not been holding IEP meetings prior to these changes in placements. Indeed, the DOE defended at hearing the unilateral changes of M.L.’s and K.B.’s placements without IEP meetings, and at M.J.’s IEP meeting, the DOE representative stated that these unilateral changes in placement by Success Academy schools were out of the DOE’s control.
Among the demands made by AFC to DOE in the case:
AFC requests that NYSED order the DOE to:
a. develop an accountability structure to ensure that all charter schools, including SA schools and all other schools within the Success Academy network, comply with all procedural safeguards for students with disabilities under the IDEA and New York law;
b. identify those SA schools and all other schools within the Success Academy network that are not providing the procedural safeguards required by the IDEA and New York Education Law and develop a plan to ensure that those schools provide procedural safeguards when required.

The complaint also cites in passing the example of Success Academy eliminating one of their 12-1-1 classes at Bed Stuy middle school last year, and essentially ejecting all these special needs students, as reported in Politico.  Yet as I previously wrote about here, after analyzing the available data, Success actually got rid of one fourth of its 12-1-1 classes last year.   When a parent advocate contacted the DOE's  special ed office on behalf of these parents, the DOE knew nothing about this and utterly failed in its oversight of Success.  
What's bizarre is in the cases described in the complaint, Success managers insisting on removing  students from inclusion classes and put them in 12-1-1 classes -- but then at the end of the year decided to eliminate many of these classes instead.  
The chaotic nature of these actions further suggests that Success just doesn't know what to do with students who for whatever reason aren't responding to their test-prep culture with super-high test scores.   As is clear, they have hard time hiring teachers because of their terrible treatment of both teachers and kids; see the overwhelming negative reviews in Glassdoor. They find it especially difficult to hire teachers who are certified in special education, which explains why a former store clerk was hired to teach the 12-1-1 class at Success Academy Bed Stuy Middle school  without any experience, with the principal telling parents that they didn't know how to reach kids with learning problems.
While apparently unsure or unwilling to provide students with their mandated services, it is apparent that the network demands its teachers fulfill a quota of kids identified as having disabilities, apparently to get more funding from the state, as explained by in a Glassdoor review by a teacher this fall:
Sadly, this new complaint was filed the day after Success was allowed via a vote of the Panel for Education Policy to co-locate a new middle school within PS 25 in Brooklyn next year -- in which they will able to abuse yet more students. So that the DOE (and the Mayor) are enablers of this abuse in several ways - first, by not exerting any oversight to ensure that Success respects of its students, and then giving them space to expand the number of kids they will mistreat.

Because I helped parents bring a lawsuit to keep PS 25 open (which this co-location vote doesn't directly affect), I was quoted in Chalkbeat about this vote last night:
“As usual the Success steamroller pushes on,” wrote Leonie Haimson, executive director of the advocacy group Class Size Matters. “Hopefully the new Senate majority will stand up to [Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz] with more guts than the Mayor has done.”
Let's hope the new year brings more accountability to delinquent charter schools like Success through Legislative action. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Brooklyn students fight against the Summit online platform and the Zuckerberg-Gates corporate machine

Students protesting at Secondary School of Journalism    credit: Edin Mejia
Update: this David vs. Goliath story with national implications was reported also on Fast Company , Business Insider; and NY Magazine.

Last week, on November 5, about 100 students at the Secondary School of Journalism in Brooklyn walked out of their schools to protest the Summit online program.  This digital instruction program, funded by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Bill Gates, forces students to spend hours staring at computers, left at sea with little human interaction or help from their teachers, all in the name of "personalized learning." 

As one of the students, Mitchel Storman, said to Sue Edelman who reported on the protest in the NY Post, "I have seen lots of students playing games instead of working....Students can easily cheat on quizzes since they can just copy and paste the question into Google.”

Z. Bonsu, Kelly Hernandez & Akila Robinson credit: Helayne Seidman
Senior Akila Robinson said she couldn’t even log onto Summit for nearly two months, while other classmates can’t or won’t use it. “The whole day, all we do is sit there.”  A teacher said, “It’s a lot of reading on the computer, and that’s not good for the eyes. Kids complain. Some kids refuse to do it.”

Since Norm Scott wrote about the walkout on his blog, and Sue Edelman's reporting in the NY Post, the story has been picked up elsewhere including Fast Company and Business Insider.  The online program, which originated in the Summit chain of charter schools in California, and was further developed and expanded with millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation, Facebook and nowthe Chan Zuckerberg LLC, has now invaded up to 300 or so public schools, and is collecting a huge amount of personal data from thousands of students without their knowledge or consent or that of their parents.

I have been writing and questioning Summit for the past two years, and last year, met with Diane Tavenner, asked her all sorts of questions she never responded to, and toured her flagship charter school in Redwood City.  My description of this visit is here.

Since then, parents in 15 states have reached out to me in huge distress about the negative impact of this program on their children. Many report that their children, who had previously done well in school,  now say that they aren't learning, that they feel constantly stressed, are beginning to hate school and want to drop out. Some parents have told me that they are now homeschooling their kids or have decided to sell their homes and move out of the district.

The student newspaper at SSJ
In response to the student protest last week in Brooklyn, the DOE now says they will eliminate the program for 11th and 12th graders - but not yet for 9th and 10th graders like Mitchel Storman. The NY Post article also revealed that the Bronx Writing Academy, which used Summit last year, has already dropped it.

Yet two other NYC schools are still implementing Summit, including M.S. 88 Peter Rouget in Park Slope and the Academy for College Preparation and Career Exploration in Flatbush; with the latter school just adopting it this year.  One wonders whether DOE  officials are performing any oversight or evaluation of Summit before allowing more and more NYC schools to subject kids to this harmful program, and to examine whether it actually complies with the NY student privacy law.

Recently Diane Tavenner revealed that next year, the online program would spin off to a  separate nonprofit corporation,  run by a board led by Priscilla Chan, Zuckerberg's wife and the CZI Chief Financial Officer.  She also said the new corporation "doesn’t plan to expand the program, but rather, the new nonprofit will focus on meeting current demand."  Yet a few days ago on Twitter , I saw that Summit is still entreating schools to apply .

Below is a fact sheet I have shared with parents and students at the Secondary School of Journalism, and those at Summit schools nationwide, along with some suggestions of questions they can ask their schools and districts about the instructional program, its data collection and privacy protections (or lack thereof).  Summit itself on its website states that parents and students have the right to demand the deletion of their personal data, and opt out of further collection of directory information, which includes their names, email addresses, and ID numbers, etc. and I suggest they do so immediately.  More on this below.  The fact sheet is also available as a pdf you can download here.

Bravo to the courageous students at SSJ, who have taken the lead to fight for their own education, vs Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and the other ed tech oligarchs, who are attempting to control their classrooms and their personal data.  As the recent NY Times series pointed out, Silicon Valley corporate leaders and engineers want one kind of education, largely screen-free, for their own kids, while imposing an experimental form of mechanized education on everyone else.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

News update on elections, federal investigation into DOE’s violation of student privacy and proposed capital plan – and how you can help!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Exciting election results & former NYC parent leader Khem Irby elected to Guilford school board!

Last night’s elections were fascinating. The NY State Senate is clearly in Democratic control for the   first time in years – the Dems only needed to flip one seat and they flipped eight.This will likely have a substantial impact on education funding and charter school policies in the state.
Khem in her NYC days

Lots of progressive new Governors won across the country who strongly support public education, and of course the House returned to Democratic control, aided by three House seats that flipped in NYS: Brindisi, Delgado and Max Rose here in NYC.
In nearby Newark, the voters approved a return to an elected school board vs. mayoral control, with the support of the Mayor of Newark Ras Baraka who said , “I do not want that power,” he said. “I want the people to have that power.” Too bad our Mayor isn’t that evolved.
And in news that is special to many of us here in NYC, Khem Irby, former parent leader in D 13, won her school board election in Guilford County- the third largest school district in North Carolina:
Current school board members held their seats in most of the Guilford County Board of Education races based on complete but unofficial returns.  The one exception is the 6th District, where Democratic challenger Khem Irby won in a tight race over incumbent Wes Cashwell, according to complete but unofficial results.
Chicago will also likely return to an elected school board after more than twenty years of mayoral control, as approved last session by both houses of  the IL Legislature and their newly elected Governor supports it.
Yay democracy in action.  And congrats to Khem!!!!