Is Success Academy in Cobble Hill failing its special needs students? One local politician believes so.
Council Member Letitia James held an impassioned press conference Thursday requesting an investigation into the suspension policy for children with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) at the Charter School Success Academy in Cobble Hill, on behalf of a constituent whose 6-year-old son with an IEP was allegedly suspended more than 20 times during the school year.
“I don’t want my child to be ostracized. He has needs that need to be met,” Crown Heights mom La-Tarsha Williams told the New York Daily News in an interview regarding her son Amani Smith.
Williams has stated that her son was suspended 20 times throughout the school year—each suspension lasting 2 to 3 days—for hitting other children, calling out in class, and throwing objects. She attributes the behavior to her child no longer having a mandated school aide.
The child's IEP required that he have a para-professional to shadow him during the school day, but one was removed by the school [in October], said Tish James in a release. "To punish a child and keep him from the classroom because the resources are not available to help him demonstrates a shocking degree of indifference to his education," said Councilmember James.
Another Carroll Gardens parent, George Mazzella, echoed those sentiments, saying his 5-year-old son Vincent has suffered a similar set of circumstances at the charter school. A third family repeated the scenario to the press.
But Success Academy spokeswoman Jenny Sedlis defended her school.
"Councilmember James' allegations are inaccurate and irresponsible," stated Sedlis. "Her claim that an IEP student 'received 20 suspensions' for 'over 50 school days' is demonstrably false."
She went on to say that the Councilmember was targeting the Cobble Hill charter to advance her own career.
"Councilmember James is exploiting a child's private struggles to advance her political ambition to become Public Advocate," stated Sedlis. "She is joined in her criticism by the UFT, whose own charter school barely survived being shut down and which was recently found by regulators to have repeatedly violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act."
The Councilmember was seemingly unfazed by the accusation.
"It’s unfortunate that Success Academy has chosen to focus on me rather than the children that have been affected by their policies," James responded. "All three families represented at yesterday’s press conference have children that have missed an excessive number of schooldays, and they all share similar stories regarding their interaction with the school administration and the lack of services provided.
"Success Academy’s educational model may work for the majority of children who attend their schools, but it is not acceptable to punish a minority of children by removing them from the classroom time and time again— especially if those children have special needs that the school is struggling to address.”
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