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.

Cross-Sector Support

Newark Public Schools wants more of its graduates to finish college. KIPP charter network wants to help.

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
KIPP Newark Collegiate Academy's graduation ceremony in June. KIPP will train guidance counselors from traditional Newark high schools in how to help students pick the right college.

A group of Newark Public Schools guidance counselors will travel to Texas next week to learn how to help high school students pick the right college. KIPP, the national charter school network, will lead the training.

The so-called “College Counseling Institute,” which will take place in San Antonio, marks the first formal partnership between the district and KIPP, which operates eight schools in Newark and 224 across the country. It signals that Newark’s new superintendent, Roger León, intends to follow through on his promise to foster collaboration between the two sectors — despite a vocal group of critics who see charter schools as siphoning students and resources from Newark’s traditional public schools.

“We are always looking to learn from innovative approaches with a track record of success,” León stated in a press release KIPP sent on Wednesday. “We have a talented, dedicated group of guidance counselors, and look forward to them receiving additional tools and training through the College Counseling Institute to help students select a college and career path that fits their needs.”

Staffers from three Newark high schools — American History, Central, and University — will attend the three-day training, alongside guidance counselors from the Miami-Dade County and New York City public school systems. Counselors from KIPP and another charter network, Aspire Public Schools, will also be at the free training, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (Chalkbeat also receives funding from Gates.)

They will learn about a KIPP program called “College Match,” which the network says it hopes to spread to other charter and traditional schools. The idea is for high school counselors to help students make smart decisions about where to apply to college, based on how likely they are to be admitted, the schools’ graduation rates, available financial aid, and other “fit” factors, such as where the college is located and what majors it offers.

After next week’s training, the participants will reconvene several times throughout the school year and receive support from KIPP college counselors, the network said. According to KIPP, after its counselors in San Antonio supported their counterparts at a local traditional high school during the 2016–17 school year, the number of students at the traditional school who were accepted into four-year colleges more than doubled.

Typically, school districts track how many students graduate high school and apply to college. But increasingly they are monitoring how well their students fare further down the line.

In Newark Public Schools, the high-school graduation rate reached a record 78 percent in 2017. This year, more than 70 percent of graduating seniors are expected to attend two- or four-year colleges, according to the district.

Yet only a fraction of Newark’s graduates will complete college.

Among students who graduated from Newark’s traditional high schools in 2011, only about 13 percent earned a college degree or certificate within six years, according to a forthcoming report from the Newark City of Learning Collaborative
and the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark. Students who graduated from one of the district’s magnet schools, which admit students based on their academic records, had a much higher six-year college completion rate of 42 percent.

Among KIPP’s Newark students, about 38 percent of those who graduated high school in 2011 had earned a college degree within six years, the report found.

KIPP officials believe that one way to improve college completion among their former students is to steer them to colleges with track records of getting first-generation college students to graduate.

“How you go about the college application process can be worth 5 to 10 points in college graduation rates,” KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth told Education Post last year.

Newark’s counselors, however, will face serious constraints as they try to replicate KIPP’s college-match program.

At KIPP’s Newark high school, Newark Collegiate Academy, there are about 75 students for every counselor. In Newark Public Schools, according to state data, there are 600 students per counselor.

Update: This story was updated to reflect that the forthcoming college-outcomes report was a joint project of the Newark City of Learning Collaborative and Rutgers University-Newark.

new year

Here are the Memphis schools opening and closing this school year

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Alcy Elementary Schools is being demolished this summer to make way for a new building on the same property that will also house students from Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools.

Six schools will open and six will close as the new school year begins next month.

This year’s closures are composed mostly of charter schools. That’s a shift from recent years — about two dozen district-run schools have shuttered since 2012. All of the schools opening are charter schools, bringing the district’s total to 57, which is more than half of the charter schools statewide.

Below is a list of closures and openings Chalkbeat has compiled from Shelby County Schools and the state-run Achievement School District.

Schools Opening

  • Believe Memphis Academy is a new college preparatory charter school that will focus on literacy while serving students in fourth and fifth grade, with plans to expand to eighth grade.
  • Crosstown High School will focus on creating student projects that solve problems of local businesses and organizations. The school will start with 150 ninth-graders and will be housed in a building shared with businesses and apartments in Crosstown Concourse, a renovated Sears warehouse.
  • Freedom Preparatory Academy will open its fifth school starting with middle schoolers. It will eventually expand to create the Memphis network’s second high school in the Whitehaven and Nonconnah communities.
  • Memphis Business Academy will open an elementary school and a middle school in Hickory Hill. The schools were originally slated to open in 2017, but were delayed to finalize property and financing, CEO Anthony Anderson said.
  • Perea Elementary School will focus on emotional health and community supports for families living in poverty. District leaders initially rejected its application, but school board members approved it. They liked the organization’s academic and community work with preschoolers in the same building.

Schools Closing

  • Alcy Elementary School will be demolished this summer to make room for a new building. It is expected to open in 2020 with students from Charjean and Magnolia elementary schools.
  • Du Bois High School of Arts and Technology and Du Bois High School of Leadership and Public Policy will close. The charter network’s founder, Willie Herenton, a former Memphis school superintendent, said in April the schools are closing because of a severe shortage of qualified teachers.
  • GRAD Academy, part of the Achievement School District, announced in January the high school would close because the Houston-based charter organization could not sustain it. It was the third school in the district to close since the state-run district started in 2012.
  • Legacy Leadership Academy is closing after its first year because the charter organization lost its federal nonprofit status, and enrollment was low.
  • Manor Lake Elementary is closing to merge with nearby Geeter Middle School because low enrollment made for extra room in their buildings. The new Geeter K-8 will join eight others in the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone, a neighborhood school improvement program started by Vincent Hunter, the principal of Whitehaven High School.