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State Finds Success Academy Violated Civil Rights Of Disabled Students

Eva Moskowitz, head of Success Academy Charter Schools
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Eva Moskowitz, head of Success Academy Charter Schools Mike Groll/AP/Shutterstock

State education officials have determined that Success Academy, the controversial charter network with 47 schools across the city, is violating the civil rights of kids with disabilities—and doing so with the tacit approval of the New York City Department of Education.

Advocates for Children publicized the findings of a State Education Department investigation today, following a complaint the advocacy group had filed in November. The complaint alleged that Success Academy was not meeting the Individualized Education Programs of students with disabilities, in some cases failing to provide legally required testing accommodations and special education instruction. The charter network was also accused of shuffling students out of special education classes at the last minute, and ignoring administrative hearing directives to return children to those classes

The state investigators confirmed each of the group's complaints in their investigation. They also concluded that the city's Department of Education had violated multiple laws in its oversight of Success Academy, including failing to properly alert parents when their children's special education placement was modified.

"It is vitally important that students with disabilities get the services and supports they need to be successful in school," Emily DeSantis, a spokesperson for the state's education department, said in a statement. "I look forward to working with NYCDOE and Success Academy to ensure the compliance assurance plan is implemented."

Success Academy's treatment of disabled and struggling students has been a recurring issue since the charter operator was established by former City Councilmember Eva Moskowitz thirteen years ago. In 2016, the school operator was sued for systemic discrimination against special-needs students, with 13 parents alleging that Success Academy maintains a company-wide policy of pressuring parents to pull students with disabilities from its schools. The previous year, a principal at a Brooklyn Success Academy branch was caught formulating a "Got to Go" list of 16 students. The majority of those students later left the school. The suit was forwarded to trial last August.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Success Academy, Ann Powell, said that the investigation's findings were incomplete, and did not differ from what the charter network has publicly disclosed: "Based on our initial discussions, we believe that the primary intent of [the State Department of Education's] findings is the need for [Success Academy] to provide better documentation, not about any failure in providing services to children."

The city's education department, meanwhile, said it would work with the state to improve accountability of charter operations.

“All New York City students deserve the resources they need to succeed in the classroom," said Doug Cohen, a DOE spokesperson. "We’re strengthening our work with all charter schools—including Success Academy—and the State to ensure students are receiving special education services and families are empowered to advocate for their children."

Despite the investigation’s damning findings, the letter does not mention any discipline that Success Academy or the NYC Department of Education will face for their treatment of disabled students. The letter merely directed the city's education department to take "corrective action(s)" upon finding that any school is failing to provide special needs students with appropriate services.

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