suit up

Success Academy parents accuse New York City of denying, delaying special education services in new lawsuit

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Students in a Success Academy classroom in 2017.

The New York City education department is accused of routinely delaying and denying special education services to Success Academy students in the Bronx, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court by parents whose children attend the charter network.

The six families claim their children’s rights to an appropriate education are being violated and are asking the city to follow federal and state law regarding special education services.

“This is a systemic issue,” said Aaron Safane, an attorney with Success Academy who is leading the case. “You would expect our special education numbers to look pretty similar to [Department of Education] schools, and they’re just drastically different.”

The suit paints a picture of a network fighting for services for its students with disabilities, in stark contrast to complaints some critics have leveled against Success. The network has been accused of suspending and even pushing out students who have special needs in an attempt to improve test scores, allegations the network has denied. About 17 percent of students at Success have a disability, according to the network — almost on-par with all city schools.

The suit also sets the network’s famously challenging approach to teaching and learning at the center of its clash with the city. The education department believes that Success Academy students are referred for special education because the network’s “standards are too high, and that special education services would be wasted on many Success Academy students,” according to the suit, resulting in disproportionate denials.

In response to questions about the suit, education department spokeswoman Toya Holness said the city would review the complaint but did not directly address any of the allegations.

“Collaboration is at the core of our approach to partnering with charter schools to ensure that the needs of students with disabilities are met,” Holness wrote in an email. “We’ll continue to work with Success Academy to ensure that charter schools and families, alongside the DOE, are working together to determine a student’s eligibility for special education services.”

Only 3 percent of Success Academy students in the Bronx had their requests for special education services considered within the required timeframe — compared with 66 percent of district students, according to the suit. Success Academy students in the Bronx wait an average of 162 days for their requests for special education services to be determined, according to the suit, even though a determination is supposed to be made within 60 days of receiving parental consent for an evaluation. One Success Academy student waited 653 days.

Success Academy students are also far less likely to be approved for special education services: Only 40 percent receive additional supports, compared with 80 percent of district students.

An arm of the education department called the Committees on Special Education are responsible for determining whether students in private and charter schools should receive special education services, such as speech therapy or a smaller class setting. The suit targets the committee that coordinates services for schools in three districts across the Bronx, including six Success Academy schools.

One Success Academy student was initially denied services despite his mother’s concerns that he had dyslexia. Almost two school years passed, more than 500 days, before a second referral for special education was approved for the kindergartner. In the meantime, he had to repeat a grade, the suit charges.

The network accuses the education department of dragging out the process by requiring its own consent forms, stalling on inputting requests into the city’s tracking system, and scheduling meetings at times that are inconvenient for parents.

Charter schools are often accused of not serving the same proportion of students with special needs as district schools, but the New York City Charter School Center estimates that the percentage of students with disabilities in charter schools grew to 17 percent in 2016-17 — compared with about 20 percent across all city schools that year.

parent support

Ignoring controversy, Noble Network backers urge renewing Chicago schools’ charter

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat

 

Virtually ignoring the drama that has enveloped the leadership of Noble Charter Network, a group of parents and some students passionately urged the Chicago school district Wednesday night to renew the group’s charter for 10 years.

They were the only voices at a public hearing before independent hearing officer Margaret Fitzpatrick on applications from 11 charter operators that run dozens of schools. Charters are publicly funded schools but privately operated with leeway to not follow some state education laws.

“We appreciate and respect the care and concern that our child receives at Noble,” said David Turner, explaining his son’s interest in academics blossomed after starting at Noble Street College Prep as a freshman this year.

Tina Williams told about her son entering Noble’s Johnson College Prep as a shy ninth grader four years ago. Now he’s talkative and excited about the future, Williams said.

“He is talking about college,” she said. “This school has been nothing but supportive.

Of 16 Noble high schools in Chicago, 11 received the top 1-plus rating in the latest district rankings. Only two received a rating lower than 1.

The hearing came the day after Noble President Constance Jones confirmed in a statement to the network’s  teachers that founder Michael Milkie was stepping down amid reports of “inappropriate behavior with alumni,” which included hand-holding and “an instance of slow-dancing.”

Despite the circumstances of Milkie’s departure, Turner and his wife, Jenny, told Chalkbeat they had not lost confidence in the Noble network.

“As parents this concerns us greatly, and we support the board and all of their efforts,” Turner said. “No network is perfect, but Noble offers a good quality education.”

Along with an outside law firm hired by the network’s board of directors, the Chicago Public Schools Office of Inspector General is investigating Milkie’s behavior.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of students, whether they are in a district-run school or a charter school, and the district will continue to collaborate to strengthen student safety and support,” the district said a statement. “The district is deeply concerned about these allegations and the OIG investigation will provide us with a clearer understanding of the allegations and actions that were taken to protect students.”

Milkie will retire at the end of the calendar year.

Noble network supporters, spoke mostly about how the school turned around their academics.

Alumna Diana Segovia said that she had little motivation to do well in high school during her first months at Noble’s Pritzker College Prep. But soon, extracurriculars like the debate team and strong relationships with teachers awakened her interest in education.

“Adapting to the school was very hard, but when I was ready to actually focus, my teachers were so excited,” she said.

Charter operators ask the district to renew their charter for any number of years, but the district usually gives renewals of two to seven years.

After district officials make their recommendation on renewing charters, the school board will vote on the applications Dec. 5.  

 

new schools

Charter-school backers pack little-advertised Chicago hearing about new charters

PHOTO: Intrinsic Schools
Eighth-grade promotion at Intrinsic Schools in Chicago.

Charter-school supporters packed a little-publicized hearing called Wednesday evening to gather input on proposals to open three specialized charter schools in the Chicago Public Schools system.

More than 50 people gathered before Margaret Fitzpatrick, an independent hearing officer hired by the district, to lobby her on proposals for three new schools. Intrinsic Charter School seeks approval for a citywide high school. Project Simeon 2000 proposes a middle school serving at-risk youth in Englewood. And Chicago Education Partnership wants to open a traditional K-8 school in Austin.

If approved, the schools would open for next school year.

As part of the first group of parents who sent their children to Intrinsic when it opened its first school, Lucy Weatherly said she unequivocally supported opening a second school under the network.  “We wanted something different for our son,” Weatherly said. “I owe them for a lifetime.”

“Intrinsic is a place that fully supports the holistic growth of students, who get a chance to really discover themselves,” said Ashley Ocanta Matthews, a teacher at Intrinsic.

While most speakers championed the charters proposals, teachers union representatives spoke forcefully against them.

“You deserve a raise, you deserve better healthcare, you deserve the ability to speak collectively with your boss, you deserve not to be terminated without cause,” said Martin Ritter, an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union, directing his comments to teachers working at non-union charter schools.  “If you’re interested in joining a union, I’ll meet you in the hallway.”

Tension has been brewing at unionized charter schools. Teachers at the Acera charter network announced earlier Wednesday that they would strike on Dec. 4 if contract talks remain stalled.

The Chicago district already oversees 142 non-traditional campuses, either charter, contract or option schools, according to Hal Woods, director of school development with Chicago Public Schools. Contract schools are operated by private companies on contract and often offer a curriculum that differs from that in traditional schools. Option schools are privately run and serve students who have been expelled or previously incarcerated.

After a team including district employees from a variety of education fields and an out-of-state-analyst review each proposal, administrators will forward a recommendation to the board of education for a vote Dec. 5.

Intrinsic Charter School

Supporters, many from a current of Intrinsic Charter School, urged the district approve a second campus. The school, opened in 2013, has won a 1-plus rating, serving a student body that’s 90 percent Hispanic and 82 percent low-income.

The school touted its “personalized learning” model, in which a class of more than 60 students learn in “pods,” as the network calls classrooms, and move between projects and independent work. It is considering locating a new school at either 79 W. Monroe or 1357 N. Elston.

“I’m lucky we found Intrinsic,” said parent Angela Ibarra, one of many parents wearing Intrinsic T-shirts Wednesday. The school, she said, “fits my boy and is not one he had to find a way to fit into.”

Ibarra, mother of a 13-year-old, said she appreciates the individualized learning.

If approved the Intrinsic 2 high school would eventually serve 1,080 students.

Several teachers and parents spoke in support of Intrinsic, many wearing Intrinsic T-shirts. They focused on the varied paths that students could take after high school, either college or part-time work.

Kemet Leadership Academy Charter

The non-profit group Project Simeon 2000 has proposed  an alternative middle school focusing on black male students. It would feature project-based learning, comprehensive support services, and skills needed by local employers. Its supporters said the Chicago district is failing boys of color.

“I know from personal experience that it takes a black male with discipline to give black boys what they need,” said Francis Newman, mother of five African-American sons and a supporter of the proposed Kemet Academy Charter.  “No other community looks for someone outside the community to raise their children.”

The school would target students who have single parents, are more than one grade level behind academically, or have been involved in the juvenile justice system. It would serve 500 students in Greater Englewood, at a campus possibly at 6201 S. Stewart  or 6520 S. Wood.

Moving Everest 2

The Moving Everest 2 school, backed by people with roots in Christian education, promises both a “joyful and character-building school environment” for 810 students by offering academic and after-school services in the Austin area.

Michael Rogers, the founder and executive director, promised a full-time social worker, dental care, and a third meal of the day to students.

Ortabia Townsend, a mother of seven, said that she knows Austin families who have strong connections to the first Moving Everest school.

“There is a lot of love at that school,” she said.

The school, run by the Chicago Education Partnership, is rated a 2-plus. The partnership seeks to open a second school. Its current campus, projected to serve 810 K-8 students, has enrolled 444 students this year. The new school is proposed for 1830 N Leclaire Ave.

While the proposal does not mention Christian education values, several members of the school’s board of directors have their roots in Christian education. The after-school program that partners with the school, By the Hand, is a “Christ-centered” program.

After district leadership make recommendations on the schools, the school board will vote on the charter proposals Dec. 5.