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Success Academy Discriminates Against Kids With Disabilities: Fed Complaint

By Alexandra Leon | January 21, 2016 3:21pm
 Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz.
Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

FORT GREENE — The parents of 13 current and former Success Academy students are accusing the high-performing charter school network of discriminating against students with disabilities, according to a formal complaint filed with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights Wednesday.

The complaint, which identifies each student only by a letter of the alphabet, alleges that Success Academy doesn’t provide the proper accommodations for students with disabilities, then tries to force them out of the school.

The school’s code of conduct unfairly sets up students with disabilities to be disciplined by penalizing them for “minor disrespectful behavior” such as failing to make eye contact, getting out of their seat, or not keeping their hands folded in their laps, according to the complaint.

“Success Academy has a ‘zero-tolerance approach’ when it comes to discipline,” reads the complaint.

The filing describes the experiences of each of the 13 students, recounting how several of them were forced to repeat grades or suspended at Success Academies in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. It alleges that the school did not provide students with disabilities or behavioral issues the proper resources and instead encouraged their parents to send them to different schools.

New York City’s Public Advocate Letitia James and City Councilman Daniel Dromm joined the complaint, along with the Legal Aid Society, MFY Legal Services, the Partnership for Children’s Rights, and the New York Legal Assistance Group.

“We will not stand for mistreatment and discrimination against any New Yorker, especially our most defenseless children and their families,” James said in a news release. “We will hold any institution responsible for their actions to ensure that every student has the education they deserve.”

The filing was first reported by the New York Daily News.

Success Academy Founder Eva Moskowitz released the following statement Wednesday:

“We provide 11,000 students, including over 1,400 special needs students, with an excellent education and have thousands more students on our waiting lists. We are disappointed that these 13 families do not feel the needs of their children were met.”

SUNY, which licenses charter schools, has launched an investigation into Success Academy’s disciplinary policy after school administrators were accused of creating a “Got to Go” list of problematic students at Success Academy Fort Greene.

A SUNY spokeswoman declined to comment on the complaint, but said the investigation into Success Academy Fort Greene is ongoing and that it is reviewing in- and out-of-school suspensions at all SUNY-authorized schools whose charters are coming up for renewal. 

“We are looking more closely at discipline across all of the charter schools that we authorize,” said SUNY spokesperson Nahati Tonk.