Success Academy under fire from state probe, multiple lawsuits

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The State University of New York has launched an investigation into the discipline policies at controversial charter school network Success Academy, following reports and a lawsuit alleging faculty at its Fort Greene location have used heavy-handed punishment to push difficult and disabled students out.

News of the inquiry also comes a month after the school district’s parental advisory board demanded the university’s Charter School Institute — which licenses the Success schools — probe the outpost, claiming it too had heard troubling reports. The institute’s director says the numerous allegations were too serious to ignore.

“The investigation is taking place because SUNY Charter Schools Institute has received a lot of community input from multiple sources,” said Mahati Tonk. “Given the nature of concerns raised, it is our responsibility as a charter school authorizer to investigate these concerns.”

The charter network — which prides itself on high test scores and standards of student conduct — has been under heavy public scrutiny since a New York Times report in October revealed the principal of the Fort Greene branch once kept a “got-to-go” list singling out high-maintenance tykes, and claimed the school used frequent suspensions and repeated phone calls home to push parents to take such kids elsewhere.

Success honchos have consistently denied those claims, and say they put a stop to the list just days after it was created, then reprimanded the principal responsible — which is exactly what they believe the state probe will find.

“We are confident SUNY will find that Success Academy acted quickly and decisively to the list at Fort Greene and that our discipline policy provides for safe learning environments similar to what parents in Park Slope or the Upper East Side expect from their schools,” said Success founder and former Manhattan Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz.

But the school won’t just come under the microscope from regulators — four parents whose offspring were on the list also filed a suit against the charter school network, state, and now-former principal for $2 million last month, with several claiming their kids have special needs, but the taxpayer-funded institution didn’t make enough effort to accommodate them, as is required by law.

One of the parents suing — who was also profiled in the Times piece — says she is happy to see the university is responding to their gripes, but doesn’t think the inquiry will yield damning results because charter schools are such big business.

“I think it’s a great effort, but I’m a realist,” said Folake Ogundiran, who withdrew her then 6-year-old daughter from the school in 2014 after she claims faculty asked her to pick her up early multiple times a week when her daughter misbehaved. “I believe that SUNY will do what it needs to do so they were able to say that they did launch an investigation and they found ‘x,y,z,’ but I think they will probably side with Success.”

The Fort Greene school isn’t the only Success school in the borough under fire — a separate group of parents and Public Advocate Letitia James filed a federal civil complaint on Jan. 20, also alleging the network’s schools failed to accommodate their special-needs kids, and also dealt with them via frequent suspensions and calls home.

Two of the 13 students in the complaint attend or attended Brooklyn schools — one in Crown Heights and one in Cobble Hill.

The charters of three Success schools across the city are up for renewal this year, including one in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Mahati said the investigation will wrap up before the university must make a decision.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018: Updated to clarify Success' comments.
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Reasonable discourse

Joey from Clinton Hills says:
When schools kick out distruptive students both the teachers and the other students benefit. This lawsuit is probably being propped up by the teachers union.
Jan. 25, 2016, 11:30 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I have always found it ironic that hedge fund managers such as Eva Moskowitz keeps on demanding to have their charter schools have so much public funding, but they don't have to be subject to the same laws as the public schools has to, and this predates Uber. If she wants public funding, she must follow the same laws or just not have any of it at all. Keep in mind that her schools do have a history of kicking out under performing students when they are doing bad especially before major tests when this is almost illegal for a public school to do so. Even if this lawsuit is being brought up by Mike Mulgrew and the UFT, they have the right to expose the truth on her whether she appreciates it or not. The least she can do is try to disprove it, otherwise she will be seen as hiding something.
Jan. 25, 2016, 4:33 pm
David from Greenpoint says:
Chronically disruptive students SHOULD be kicked out of both Charter and Public schools. Same goes for bad teachers but we all know that doesnt happen.
Jan. 25, 2016, 4:56 pm
Joe from Canarsie says:
What a shame. The UFT will run any charter school out of town, especially if it's a minority neighborhood. People will look back on these years from now in disbelief. And the UFT is big money and one of the prime beneficiaries of the Supreme Court's Citizen United decision.
Jan. 25, 2016, 6:09 pm
Eric from Manhattan says:
I would like to see the UFT run magnet and G&T programs that are far whiter than any surrounding gen ed programs or any SA schools face this same scrutiny. That won't happen, will it? We all know why.
Jan. 25, 2016, 9:56 pm
Lisa from Cobble Hill says:
NYC charter schools are not required to hire certified teachers. NYC charter schools are allowed to violate the NYC DOE Chancellor's Regulations for conduct, behavior and punishment (of students and staff). NYC charter schools are allowed to keep students and staff in windowless classrooms for extended days without breaks, recess, gym class, or even leaving the room to eat lunch. AND NYC charter schools are allowed to neglect legally mandated accommodative services for students. I have worked at several charter schools, and the vast majority of these (with a few notable exceptions) govern their students and their staff through a system of bullying and emotional humiliation: Rigor and severe punishment replaces good teaching practices. If parents were able to shadow their child for a day, it would most certainly be their child's last day at most of these charter schools!!
Jan. 25, 2016, 11:48 pm
Eric from Manhattan says:
Lisa: I have shadowed my son in an SA school, at least once a year, and it is nothing like what you describe. The children are as happy and flourishing as they would be in any good, nurturing school program. I cannot speak to anybody else's experience in any other school but I was very happy with what I saw in his. Oh, and the classrooms even have windows and they eat in the lunch room.
Jan. 26, 2016, 8:25 am
NYC public school parent says:
The issue is who gets to decide when a child is unteachable?

In a charter school, it's up to the teacher and principal to decide when a child deserves punishment. And, just like in private schools, if they decide you are too hard to teach, out you go. And by "hard to teach", that means your child won't get decent test scores.

The people on here supporting that probably think it is fine until it is their own child who is suddenly the problem. Or maybe just your child's best friend so you don't really care. While you may be convinced it can never happen, it can, and without any due process, it will be a child you care about out the door. Not to a nice well-funded school like Success Academy, but to the underfunded public school that Eva Moskowitz claims should be able to teach any child with large class sizes just like hers does. Which will have a disproportionate percentage of the kids with issues and less money due to her years of claiming she was getting these top test scores with any child who won the lottery. Remember that?

Just like you might support hospitals discharging the children with hard to treat cancers because it saves more money for your child to have a nicer hospital experience when he gets his tonsils out. As long as you are certain that your child won't be the child with cancer kicked out because he is too expensive to treat (and hurts the ability for the hospital to brag about cure rates), and as long as you don't care at all about any children but your own, you will support that. It's too bad America has come to this.

Imagine if your child struggles to learn at age 5 and isn't getting "reading" by the end of Kindergarten. Make him feel misery until he leaves? Is that really what you think is the American way? All Eva Moskowitz had to do was to use her millions in donations to figure out a way to teach all those kids she didn't want. Why didn't she? Because they couldn't get with her program? Too expensive? No excuses, Ms. Moskowitz. You should have put your money where your mouth is and figured out how to teach all the children you couldn't get out of your school fast enough.
Jan. 26, 2016, 10:40 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I have heard that those a good number of those who come into the defense of charter schools are usually paid by the hedge fund managers of them. Some of them by just their name are clearly fake and have no intentions for what they stand for such as Students First or even Families for Excellent Schools. Another irony is that some feel that it's okay for charter school advocates to complain and address conditions about public schools, but then cry foul when the teachers union, public school advocates, or even politicians want to address the conditions on the charter schools. I guess some only know how to dish criticism, but can't take it. Still, I don't get how charter schools can be allowed public funds but not serve the public. If that's that case, then they should be doing just that otherwise cut off all the funding to them. Pretty much, if you want to shut out the public from attending your schools, then you don't get public funds, and their plenty of private schools that don't get public funding at all mainly because they don't serve the general public. What really surprises me is that Moskowitz says that she can't afford to find any space for her own schools and pay for it with her own money despite how much she is making and/or despite the amount of available space that doesn't involve using in an already existing public school, which some are already overcrowded as is. Let's not forget that the original purpose of the charter schools was to help students who are doing bad academically, but that hasn't been the case ever since hedge fund managers such as Moskowitz started to take over some of them and even refuse to help them at all if ever. For the record, I'm not a member of the UFT let alone an actual teacher if anyone tends to be asking me this, I just represent myself here.
Jan. 26, 2016, 3:51 pm
R.A.J.A family from Monroe-Woodbury says:
Success Academy schools in NYC have a lottery to admission since charter schools can't have an admission policy or entrance exams. So to get around this, Success Academy throws a wide net, takes in whatever kids win the lottery, and weeds out ALL OF THE KIDS with behavior problems and learning disabilities.

Just get rid of the policy that Charter Schools can't have an entrance examination or admission policy.

There's nothing worst for an inner-city family than Winning the Education Lottery for their kids just to have it stripped away.

Jan. 27, 2016, 6:34 pm

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