“Public Advocate Letitia James filed a federal civil-rights complaint against the city’s largest charter-school network Wednesday, claiming the high-performing Success Academy discriminates against students with disabilities.  The complaint, filed on behalf of 13 students, says Success fails to identify students with disabilities or provide them with “reasonable accommodations.”  It alleges that Success “retaliates” against students with disabilities by pressuring them to leave their schools.”  (The New York Post, January 21, 2016)

When I read this news, I wondered what Eva Moskowitz would say if she were called to testify.  Here’s how I think it might go.  

If it may please the court, I am Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of Success Academies. This lawsuit is frivolous and entirely without merit.  My schools support every scholar enrolled to the best of our ability, and to suggest that we would single out special needs children and seek to remove them from our rolls is ludicrous, shameful, and insulting to our dedicated staff and teachers.

Although we enroll far fewer special needs children than other charter schools and traditional public schools, we treat them exactly as we treat all of our scholars.  We have high expectations and a carefully drafted code of conduct.  All children learn that there are at least 65 infractions that can get them suspended.  For example, failing to maintain a ‘ready to learn’ position after a warning can get a child sent home.

When scholars break the rules, we often will send them home, perhaps multiple times, until they get the message.  John Merrow of PBS documented that in a report last October, making it clear that we suspend a lot of kids, not just special needs kids. Most of the kids we send home, even the 5- and 6-year-olds,  fall into the category of “PITA,” which I will explain later.

The following month Kate Taylor of the New York Times brought the point home even more forcefully when she reported that one of our schools had ‘Got to go’ lists that named children the principal or staff wanted out.  I have seen that list and can assure you that few (if any) of the children on it were labeled special needs.  They too fell into the “PITA” category.

When news of that list became public, I disciplined the principal.  For crying out loud, he should have known better than to put stuff like that in writing.  He’s now back in the classroom.

I certainly do not apologize for using out of school suspensions more than any other schools, whether charter or traditional public. They are an important tool in the Success Academy toolbox, as I have written about in the Wall Street Journal.  I know that other schools treat behavior issues at the school, but we think sending the child home sends a message to him or her and to the parents.

A child who cannot keep his eyes on the teacher at all times doesn’t belong at Success Academy.  A child who continues to call out the answer to questions, even if she’s right, clearly isn’t Success Academy material.  A kindergartener who gets curious about the pictures on the bulletin board and leaves his seat to take a close look, that’s behavior we have to stamp out.  Obedience trumps curiosity every time, because if we allowed children to follow their desires, curiosity and passions, chaos would ensue.

Yes, it’s true that the parents of children we suspend multiple times often decide  to withdraw their children from our schools, but that’s their choice.

A lot of kids leave Success Academy, to be replaced by children on our long waiting list. But, your honor, those kids who disappear from our rolls are PITA kids, not special needs.

As you have probably figured out by now, PITA stands for “Pain in the Ass.” Believe me, kids who can’t get with the Success Academy program are a Pain In The Ass, and that’s reason enough for us to take steps.

Your honor, I respectfully request that this lawsuit be dismissed forthwith.


11 thoughts on “EVA GOES TO COURT

  1. John, what worries me when I read this, is the tendency of folks of all sides to assume bad character and bad intent on the part of those, with whom they disagree.

    That’s how the conversation turns from the reasonable “While Success Academy is doing many things right, it still needs to improve its ….”, into the partisan “The only reason Success Academy seems successful, is because that it gets rid of difficult kids”.

    I would buy into the sarcasm of your post, if you also lampooned the DOE or the UFT. Eva Moskowitz is hardly perfect, but neither are many other prominent figures in public education in NYC.

    I like to quote DeBlasio’s Deputy Mayor Richard Buery: “one of the things that’s been the most frustrating is that the political environment around education is extraordinarily toxic, …. It’s hard to have basic, adult, civilized conversations around these issues.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Any rigid response to a student totally disregards differences in human beings as well as the solutions to perceived problems. Robotic sameness has not and will never work for any children much less those with special needs.

    Trying to make special needs kids into the average, run of the mill robot demeans the child and the profession. having spent years as a teacher of students with special needs, I realized that rather than fit those kids in to what we call normal, it’s time to realize that all kids are different. It’s time to fit general ed kids into the concept that all children have needs.

    The concept of IEP for all, or as I call it in my book My Action Plan (MAP) works against the concept of inclusion because there is no exclusion in the first place. Forcing kids with special needs into a program that is not well designed for gen ed is and has been a disaster for all.

    This not only relates to “academic skills” but for behaviors. Sending kids home under the old 60’s behavior programs is idiotic. Solving the problem, if there really is one, must be done immediately.

    Of course making up rules for the purpose of suspending is insane. What is normal child behavior, made into suspendable behavior is outrageous.. Trying to create kiss butts from students who need to learn, not just respond is unconsionable..


  3. Perhaps instead of PITA it should be PITY, pity the poor student who doesn’t fit the confines and expectations of the R&R department, that would be Rules and Regulations. Every child, with very few exceptions, can learn, even those who are mentally, physically and emotionally challenged. We just do not have the systems and structures that can meet such a wide array of needs. While schools tried the one size for all approach, moving them through in large groups, that did very little for the majority. We are not set up to individualize learning in tutorials that are designed for and responsive to individuals and smaller groupings. For the most part we have failed to develop the talents and skills of kids in ways where other countries are taking the lead. Why not learn from them, Finland and Norway as examples? We might even take a lesson in health care too while we’re at it. My task as Commissioner would be to get politics out of education, get the special interests groups sidelined, and pay teachers twice what they’re getting so we could have the brightest and best attracted to teaching and not to the world of finance. Make schools more entrepreneurial, and let them create what’s best for kids regardless of their needs and see what’s working. Many new, start-up schools might fail but those that succeed can be models for others. There are numerous examples already at work.


    • Some good ideas here. I think that technology, in the hands of skilled teachers, allows much more individualization. What’s essential is asking a new question about each child: instead of “How intelligent are you?”, we need to ask “How are you intelligent?” and then build on those strengths and interests.


  4. Everyone should read L. Todd Rose’s new book “The End of Average.” Success Academy is the polar opposite of what he describes and harks back to the 20th century which, in itself, is firmly planted in the Industrial Revolution.


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