Success Academy Parents File Lawsuit on Behalf of Children Who Suffered Excessive Delays and Denials of Special Education Services
Success Academy – July 10, 2018
**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE JULY 10, 2018**
Anne Michaud, 914-712-8693
Will Chabot, 518-788-8685
SUCCESS ACADEMY PARENTS FILE LAWSUIT ON BEHALF OF CHILDREN WHO SUFFERED EXCESSIVE DELAYS AND DENIALS OF SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES
In the South Bronx, the Committee on Special Education 1 Routinely and Deliberately Delayed Evaluations and Denied Services for Success Academy Students
New York, NY — Sixth-grader A.H. loves school, especially math. But he has trouble with comprehension and processing — his mom calls these “leaks.” Without academic services, A.H.’s weaknesses will worsen over time and set him back academically and socially.
Despite abundant evidence from teacher reports and evaluations, the Committee on Special Education 1 denied A.H. these services, and kept his mother, Johanna Castillo, waiting 239 days before holding the meeting where they denied her son the services. Castillo is one of six plaintiffs in a lawsuit Success Academy parents filed in federal court today, alleging that CSE 1, an entity controlled by the New York City Department of Education, routinely discriminates against Success Academy scholars and violates their Congressionally guaranteed right to a free appropriate public education.
The complaint (attached) alleges that the DOE, CSE 1, Steven Birkeland (Chairperson of CSE 1), and Eleni Chronas (CSE 1’s Supervisor of Psychologists), have “established a policy and a pattern and practice of deliberately and routinely denying Success Academy scholars access to meaningful and timely special education services.”
The Success parents’ Complaint details CSE 1’s systematic discrimination against children who clearly, painfully are in need of special education services — and the heartbreaking travails of parents like Castillo. Enduring months of CSE 1’s delayed evaluations and missed meetings, Castillo despaired that A.H. would ever get help. He was reading below grade level at the time of his referral, and by the spring of 2017, his reading level had not improved at all for months. Finally, 239 days after her son’s referral, Castillo received CSE 1’s determination: no special education support whatsoever. A CSE 1 representative told Castillo that her son was only being referred because Success Academy’s academic standards for children were too high.
“Neglecting children in this way is a disgrace,” said Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools. “A disability is not an inability. When children get the services they need, they can improve academically and achieve at a high level. Deliberately denying a child the educational supports he needs simply because of the school he attends is reprehensible.”
In one case, a student who had been offered special education support while enrolled in a district pre-k program was denied the very same services the next year as a Success Academy kindergartener. In another instance, a CSE 1 representative told a mother that she should send her daughter to a different school because Success Academy’s curriculum was too difficult, and that Success asks too much from its students. The CSE 1 representative assured the mother that her daughter would receive special education support if she were to attend a different school.
A DOE employee who supervises CSE 1 has insisted to Success Academy representatives that some children are simply “slow” and that children should not receive special education support for being “slow learners.”
In the Complaint, Success alleges that CSE 1 violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), the federal law that was intended to ensure high expectations and, wherever possible, improved academic results for children with special needs. By criticizing Success Academy’s high standards for children, the supervisor and other CSE 1 staff continually applied inappropriately low expectations to Success Academy scholars referred for evaluation, then deliberately denied them access to special education services, ignoring information provided by the students’ own teachers, and predetermining before the students’ IEP meetings are even held that they should have no special education support. The CSE 1 also on average completed the IEP process more than 100 days after the 60 day time limit that the IDEA allows.
In the absence of city-provided services, Success Academy has devoted extra help to A.H. At SA Bronx 2 Middle School, he has learned in an integrated co-teaching class, where students with disabilities receive instruction and support alongside their non-disabled peers. A.H. has also received remediation in small groups of 3 or 4 students, guided reading, and additional interventions.
But without an IEP, A.H. cannot get the full services he needs.
CSE 1 handles special education support determinations for charter and private schools in DOE districts 7, 9 and 10, primarily in the South Bronx. Notable facts:
The law requires the CSE to hold IEP meetings within 60 days of parental consent, yet CSE 1 met that legal requirement in just 3% of cases for Success Academy students, compared to about 66% of cases for district students.
On average, Success Academy scholars wait 162 days for an IEP determination. In some cases, families waited more than a year for a meeting.
Just 40% of Success Academy scholars referred for Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, were deemed eligible for supports by CSE 1 in the 2016-17 school year.
By contrast, more than 80% of district students in the same geographic area who were referred to the DOE were granted supports.
Other plaintiffs tell heart-rending stories of children struggling without services and protections required by IDEA.
Johanny Sandoval’s son R.A. was offered speech services as a student in a non-Success Academy pre-K program, but as a kindergartener at SA Bronx 1, he was denied the same services by CSE 1, even though the second evaluation showed the same results as the one done a year earlier. The only thing that changed was that R.A. had begun attending a Success Academy school.
U.B., who repeated the third grade at SA Bronx 2, and his mother Ashley Barreto waited 378 days — more than a year — for an IEP meeting. Then, CSE 1 denied him special education services.
Lakeisha Riddick’s son M.M. began the school year in first grade at SA Bronx 1 but was moved back to kindergarten because of his academic struggles. Success tried to help by providing small group instruction in reading four times a week and in math three times a week. Riddick twice sought special education supports for her son from CSE 1. An astounding 535 days after M.M.’s first referral, CSE 1 granted him the services he had plainly needed for so long.
While M.E. was repeating the third grade at SA Bronx 2, her mother Cuberta Robledo requested an IEP determination in April 2017. In September 2017, a DOE observer arrived at M.E.’s classroom three hours late and failed to interview her teacher. In March 2018 — 11 months after M.E. was referred for evaluation — CSE 1 denied her support services.
Elsinay Meza’s request for services for her daughter A.M. had been denied twice over two years. A seventh-grader at SA Bronx 2 Middle School, A.M.’s evaluation showed her IQ in the bottom 18 percent. Meza petitioned a third time, and she received a call at noon one day saying CSE 1 could meet with her at 4:15 the same day. Meza hurriedly pulled together child care, but CSE 1 members missed the meeting — for a second time. Finally, a full 654 days after the initial referral, CSE 1 agreed to provide A.M. with special education support.
The Success Academy parents are seeking a jury trial and a court order instructing CSE 1 to cease its pattern of discrimination and comply with all applicable laws when carrying out the special education process for SA scholars.
ABOUT SUCCESS ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOLS
Founded in 2006, Success Academy Charter Schools are free public K-12 schools open to all children in the state through a random lottery. With 46 schools across Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens, Success Academy enrolls more than 15,000 students, primarily low-income children of color in disadvantaged neighborhoods: 74% of students receive free or reduced-price lunch, 94% are children of color, 16% are children with disabilities, and 8% are English language learners. Ranked in the top 0.3% in math and the top 1.4% in English on 2017 state proficiency tests, Success Academy schools received more than 17,700 applications for 3,288 open seats this year.