Tish James, Success Academy Spar Over Suspension of Special Needs Students

Three families allege that their children have been punished unfairly by the school for having IEPs.

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.”

Stay with Patch for updates.

Former SACH mom March 16, 2013 at 01:26 PM
I am a former Success Academy mom. After witnessing what I can only describe as child abuse I pulled my child out. Many others have also left with their own stories of abuse but do not feel comfortable publicly speaking out. My child was suspended twice for for extremely unreasonable things. The school gives the parents of children who are suspended a formal letter with details. The parents mentioned above will easily be able to defend their case. This school should be shut down.
Former fellow SA mom March 16, 2013 at 02:13 PM
I was a former mom at Success Academy as well and I believe minority students are looked at differently and treated differently too. I felt at times that they make you feel unwelcomed and a burden if your child is not doing as we'll as expected. So much negative feed back and the desire to be perfect all the time, I feel put a horrible amount of stress on a young mind. Children have the rest of their whole life to be stressed about life, it shouldn't be this young!
peter March 16, 2013 at 03:58 PM
Remember Charter Schools have their own code of discipline and do not follow the DOE rules. As a parent you should have been aware of this before you signed your child in to the school. Either you child needs to follow the rules or he/she will be suspended. Remove your child from the school and put him/her back in a DOE school where students get away with all sorts of violations.
Louise March 16, 2013 at 04:14 PM
Peter this is terrible what you just said here..did you read what you wrote here? Did you go to a special school as you were growing up?
peter March 16, 2013 at 05:08 PM
What I said is the truth. I worked for the DOE for numerous years and know what goes on. Charter Schools dance to the beat of a different drummer. Kow what you are getting in to before you commit yourself or your children.
peter March 16, 2013 at 05:08 PM
Mary A. March 16, 2013 at 06:09 PM
What exactly is the school supposed to do if a child is hitting other children, calling out in class, and throwing objects? If for whatever reason they cannot provide a paraprofessional to shadow the child around but other New York City Schools can, then the child should go to one of those schools. I don't think the other parents want their children to be beaten, have objects thrown at them, or have their lessons repeatedly interrupted by yellow if that child cannot attend regular classes.
Mary A. March 16, 2013 at 06:10 PM
Sorry, typo. meant to say "repeatedly interrupted by yelling if that child cannot attend regular classes."
Markus Down March 16, 2013 at 07:44 PM
I wonder when it is, that this child, who threw objects, potentially harming another child, is supposed to learn self restraint. Who will "Shadow" him the other 18 hours a day and for how many years! If he doesn't learn socially acceptable behavior at home, and the school can't spank him, then society eventually will give him a 'shadow' and maybe a cell. Needing an IEP, by the way, does NOT excuse bad behavior especially when it is potentially harmful to others. I don't get that people think there is an "excuse" for socially unacceptable behavior. Maybe he just isn't mature enough for school yet. I wonder what sort of discipline he gets at home for aggressive/violent behavior.
Mary A. March 16, 2013 at 07:58 PM
I think it's pretty clear this child does not belong in this Charter School. But now the politicians have gotten involved clamoring for investigations and yelling that this Charter School is uncaring. If you read comments elsewhere, most of the parents are thrilled about the schooling that their children are getting here. The school is meant to provide good discipline and lots of education to kids who want to get a challenging education and parents who are supportive of such education. This school is not for everyone. That was clear from the beginning. Just like the School for Performing Arts doesn't "discriminate" against kids who can't sing, dance or act, this school doesn't discriminate against kids who cannot behave or keep up with the educational program.
Former SACH mom March 16, 2013 at 08:37 PM
All charter schools including SACH are mandated by law to accept and maintain x number of children with IEPs. The school must follow the law on how these children are to be "cared for" via para or whatever the IEP calls for. If SACH does not give the child a para that is meant to have one, or takes the para away for whatever reason, then SACH is breaking the law and SACH is creating the problem NOT the 5 or 6 year olds.
Former SACH mom March 16, 2013 at 09:15 PM
This is a quote from the NYS Charter Schools Act of 1998 which SACH must follow as per the SUNY Charter Schools Institute - the organization that grants their charters: "...the charter school shall demonstrate good faith efforts to attract and retain a comparable or greater enrollment of students with disabilities and limited English proficient students when compared to the enrollment figures for such students in the school district in which the charter school is located." Disabilities refers to IEPs. SACH can not just force these children out by taking away their paras and torturing their parents with multiple suspensions. They are bound by the rules of their charter to accept these children with their disabilities. Missing 50 days of school in half a semester does not lend itself to a "good learning environment" which also happens to be one of the charter rules.
Concetta Lo Presti March 16, 2013 at 09:58 PM
The children in question have ADHD. These are not innately violent children, but children who suffer from poor impulse control. Also lets remember that these children are 5 and 6 years old, this is an age when most children whether disabled or not are learning to control their impulses. Children with ADHD have an especially difficult time learning how to do this hence the need for a para professional. This para's should be trained to work with children who have behavioral issues so that they could be taught to modify and redirect their behavior. The charter school is re-imbursed by the DOE for the para. It is a matter of contracting with an agency that has the para's that can help these children. For those that don't know 11% of all children, mostly boys, suffer from ADHD. It is a recognized disablity and is covered by the American's Disability Act. Would you criticize a parent who has a child in a wheelchair and may need a para for physical aid in the school. This is the same thing. The disability may not be visible to the naked eye, but still exists. Instead of demonizing these children, the question should be what can we doas adults and as a society to help, because these children cannot help themselves. If you don't beleive that these children should be redirected; do you realize that such celebrities as Michael Phelps, Will Smith, and Jim Carey have ADHD. Hardly the criminal types. What if their schools refused to help them? This shouldn't be a debate.
Concetta Lo Presti March 16, 2013 at 10:06 PM
You obviously have no clue what being a parent is all about let alone understanding what a child with special needs or an IEP really means. Charter schools take public money therefore they must follow public rules not make their own. Don't take the money call yourself a private school and follow your own rules.
George March 16, 2013 at 10:18 PM
We knew what we were getting into. The heart of the matter is not buyer be where but that the success academies must follow the law. They are not above it they can not create their own. They must follow NY state and Federal laws. They think they can write their own. If they were a private school that is one thing. They are not as they take public money and subject to all the laws that all public schools follow.
George March 16, 2013 at 10:24 PM
Children are not being beaten. Who told you that ? Children are being handled incorrectly by teachers and administrators who need to be trained on parenting let alone parenting a child with special needs. The school must follow the NY and Federal laws clearly they are not if they are ignoring IEP's, not providing para's and not using BIP's(Behavior Intervention Plans). We are talking about 5 and 6 yr olds here.
Former SACH mom March 16, 2013 at 11:02 PM
I did not know what we were getting into. I did not realize that I would be confronted with a school that thinks it's ok to refuse a child the use of the bathroom long enough that they wet their pants over and over again and then tell me that I should go to the doctor to make sure there is no bladder problem. This was and is still happening to many other children at SACH. As of last week I heard that one boy wet his pants 3 times in two weeks. They won't let the kids go to the bathroom when they ask. Seriously, there is so much more. You wouldn't know unless you had been there. Give George a break. He should be commended for speaking out and defending his child. One of the staff at the Success Network actually said to me one day that I "would be surprised at how many parents do not advocate for their children." Thank you George for speaking out. You have MANY supporters!
Mary A. March 17, 2013 at 01:12 AM
I am responding to George's question/statement in response to one of my postings: "children are not being beaten. Who told you that? I was referring to the above article we all talking about. It says and I quote: "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."
Former SACH mom March 17, 2013 at 01:28 AM
Everyone, this is a very difficult subject and the emotions that it evokes are all very charged and real. As parents we need to protect our children and do what's right for them and our families. The parents listed in the articles, myself and the others who have responded here have spent a lot of time and energy to get to the place that we are all at right now regarding SACH and the drama that we all have been put through. Leaving a school mid year is no easy task. It creates problems for the children, the family and the next school that they go to. Try to put yourself in our shoes. Do you know other parents who have gone through this ordeal? Please try to be sympathetic to the parents and children. The real point is that this school in particular, not all charter schools, is what we are talking about. And SACH has created this situation not the children.
Former fellow SA mom March 17, 2013 at 01:47 AM
Sound a bit familiar. According to an article in NY Magazine, when students are deemed “a bad fit,” the administration of Harlem Success creates a nightmare for their families — repeatedly suspending children and making constant phone calls until parents take their children elsewhere. At one Harlem Success school alone, a teacher said at least six lower-grade children who were eligible for IEPs were withdrawn this school year. Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/charter-lotteries-leave-lots-behind.html#ixzz2NktOg9NF
JB March 18, 2013 at 10:12 PM
People like "Mary" want private schools in gentrified areas , but for FREE...So they send their kids to public charter schools. Mary....if you can't stand "the heat" of placing your kid in a public school, which are,required to supply fully all IEP services....spend the $$$ and send them to a private school.
Tired of the Merry-Go-Round March 19, 2013 at 04:30 AM
This is a nasty comment. Some people can't afford a pricey education for their children; but they want their child to have a good education. The point of the Charter School is to address those needs via a public-private partnership. Our point is that it should be available to all, including those that have IEP's due to behavior issues.
Former SACH mom March 20, 2013 at 03:24 PM
Let's all try to get along. Mary is not the enemy and everyone is having their own experiences (good and bad) with Success Academy so please let's just stick to the facts. The school is not providing what they are supposed to provide and someone is calling them on it. It is for SACH to prove differently. I, for one, will be very interested to see how this plays out.
Jennifer Boutell March 24, 2013 at 08:03 PM
IEPs are not optional, neither is the law that children should be taught in the least restrictive environment possible. Sometimes that means a one on one aide. If a school receives federal funds it has to follow the law like any public school.


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