“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.