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. 

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