Monday, September 2, 2013

On the Democracy Prep Plantation: When Zero Tolerance Becomes Psychological Warfare

UPDATED:
  • all the teachers at this charter school are white and from out of state. The school's administrators did manage to get two coaches that are African-American from the New York City area. They are the two in charge of the detention room. Is there something wrong with that picture?.....
  • his teachers were directed to video tape him in every classroom. One of the teachers according to him followed him with a camera into the lunch room when he went to pick up his lunch, followed him up the stairs into the hallway and continued videotaping him while he was eating lunch.....
  • It's time to examine the police state structure of some of the charter schools model in the minority community in New York... Former Democracy Prep mother
Ahhh, that ole' plantation mentality at Democracy Prep. Message to Seth Andrews: Don't tick off a parent who is a professional journalist.

Gary Rubinstein pointed out just how bad the Democracy Prep (relative to public schools despite their significant advantages) test scores were in this post: Petrilli’s Desperate Attempt To Save Democracy Prep’s Reputation.  Now, as Gary says, I don't view school success and failure based on test scores. But if charters are going to make big claims based on the scores, then die by the sword. Especially when they set up a regressive "zero tolerance" situation (when there are so many progressive means of discipline, like restorative justice.

[Our buddies at Teachers Unite have done an excellent film called "Growing Fairness" -- I attended the premiere the other night and will write a review soon. -- but see the trailer. ]

One of the most riveting parts of our film response to Waiting for Superman was the testimony of former charter school parents.

Here are the links -- make sure to have some tissues handy.
Here is another parent who removed her child from Democracy Prep (from their point of view: mission accomplished).

Extracting high test scores at Success 
And even with these policies they still had horrible test scores. Eva is smarter at extracting high scores I guess. Has anyone checked to see if kids at Success
Academy schools still have their fingernails?



Posted at: http://www.blackstarnews.com/ny-watch/news/the-mis-education-of-my-son.html
When Zero Tolerance Becomes Psychological War Fare: Democracy Prep Charter Middle School

By Bukola Shonuga

Finally, in the last hour and all my tolerance threshold and mental power exhausted I had no choice but to remove my 12 year old son from Democracy Prep Charter Middle School in Harlem - two weeks before graduation from 6th grade. After months of mental torture of my son by overzealous teachers, endless meetings, tons of emails and paperwork that's turned me into a social worker/mom/psychologist, I realized that it has become unhealthy and unsafe to keep my son at Democracy Prep.

The latest episode of the daily psychological abuse of my son occurred on June 6, 2013 when I placed one of my routine calls to the school to check in on him. I was informed that he has been suspended and that his suspension papers were being processed when my call came in.

It's time to examine the police state structure of some of the charter schools model in the minority community in New York.



While I was gathering the facts to write this article, the stalemate situation at my son's school, Democracy Prep middle school in Harlem is unraveling faster than I can keep pace. On May 22nd, my son told me that at lunch time, his teachers were directed to video tape him in every classroom. One of the teachers according to him followed him with a camera into the lunch room when he went to pick up his lunch, followed him up the stairs into the hallway and continued videotaping him while he was eating lunch. I was so outraged. I couldn't believe the school would actually break the law by videotaping a scholar without parental consent.

So I emailed the principal and copied all the teachers including the superintendent of the Charter Schools in District 5 in Harlem. I also spoke with the Principal who told me that it's routine to place a camera in the classrooms to which I responded that it had never been the case for the last nine months and assuming that it's routine, why was my son singled out and followed with a camera and made uncomfortable while he was eating lunch?

There was no response to that question. I also emailed the particular teacher involved and copied every relevant party. I have not gotten any reply to that email message either.

Earlier, last Friday, May 18 my son stormed into the house from school - in another outburst of frustration with his school. "This School sucks," the 12 year old blurted. "Can you believe we didn't attend regular classes today? They separated 46 bad students including me into two groups of 26 and sent us to a special class called 'Prep Academy''.

Normally it takes a while for certain information to register in my brain, particularly the endless daily discipline saga at Democracy Prep where my son has been attending for the past nine months. But he persisted, "So Mommy, they think we are bad kids and had to separate us from the good kids right"?

That caught my attention so I stopped and looked him in the eyes and reassured him that he's a very smart, kind and loving young man, and that he's going to realize his dream by becoming one of the best scientist of his generation.

And more importantly he should never allow anyone to define or label him as a "bad-kid". Nurturing and preserving my son's self-esteem has become a daily routine in the last five months due to the covert psychological abuse he's been experiencing daily at school.

Democracy Prep Charter Middle School in Harlem was an attractive choice when I was searching for school for my son about a year ago, having just moved from Brooklyn where I'd lived for over 20 years. I was rudely awakened by the shortage of good middle schools in the Harlem area and particularly in district 15.

A friend of mine informed me of Democracy Prep and I went to the open house and decided that it sounded like a good fit for my son. I remember sitting in the orientation session and marveling at the no-nonsense and sound academic model presentation. For starters I like the idea that students have to wear a uniform and that accessories and other distracting personal effects are not allowed.

The scholars must abide by school rules and orderliness and so on. I fell in love with their reading marathon program called "word count " where scholars are rewarded based on how many words they read per month. I love reading and I thought it'd be a huge incentive for my son who loves to write but needed to do more reading.

Fast forward: the first trimester was like Xmas. My son got mostly A and B grades and everyone was happy including the school of course.

But as the second trimester begun in January I noticed that he started to complain about how he didn't fit in with the kids and how some used "bad" language - and how they didn't like him because he's different and so on.

Yes, my son's different in the sense of not being street smart. He was never allowed to venture out by himself because I was a little too paranoid about him traveling alone. Not to mention that he's sort of an absent-minded professor. But academically, he's very smart.

I started to notice frequent behavioral comments on his weekly progress report. I eventually learned that those comments adds up to detention, then interrogation (called reflection) and then suspension.

I went to a colonial boarding school in Nigeria and when you got suspended it meant you'd committed a serious crime - like skipping school for days, stealing, falsifying your report card, cheating on exams, or having boys over in your dormitory.

So when my son told me he'd been suspended, I was outraged. I demanded to meet with the principal immediately. She explained that once a scholar is sent out twice in one day, he or she is automatically suspended.

I was really shocked to hear this so I asked why my son was sent out at all in the first place? And I found out a the litany of allegations ("deductions," "detentions," and "interrogations") called reflections, then suspension.

I couldn't believe the extreme disciplinary system; akin to taking a suspect to a police station where offenders are booked and then jailed. But in this situation, scholars are suspended.

I was flabbergasted and my journalistic instinct was automatically activated telling me there's something worth investigating here. So I decided to take advantage of the "open door" policy and started showing up unannounced to observe the classes in session to find out what rules my son was breaking that's resulting in him being sent out almost daily, which had led to three suspensions in three months.

On my first visit to observe class I was struck by the robotic and monotonous style of teaching whereby teachers are programmed to literally clock every second of the class through a count down, while simultaneously monitoring every movement and body language of the young students.

The students are supposed to respond in non-verbal coded signals called : spirit fingers - a twirling of all ten fingers in the direction of the scholar being supported - means a 'show of support,' brain match - is the simultaneous waving of the thumb and the pinkie - it means 'I agree with you,' track your speaker means 'focusing on who's speaking,' pound it out - a chorus of pounding on the desks - means 'the question is answered correctly'; and so on.

So now I understand fully well why my 12 year old who is very creative and loves to be in motion would feel like he's in prison; having to endure ten hours of monotonous class sessions daily without any sports activities or recess. Scholars have to eat their lunch in their respective classroom/homeroom and are only given fifteen to twenty minutes.

I don't know many adults who would survive these conditions. I sat in about about 15 sessions and observed my son and the other students. Yes, some of the them were very quiet and not interactive; and yes, some, including my son, were somewhat restless after awhile. The latter category - in which my son belongs - was very interactive, usually enthusiastic and tended to raise their hands all the time to answer a question.

The endless list of reasons for which students can get railroaded into detention and ultimately suspension include: "not spontaneous on queue," "clapping three times instead of twice as prompted," "slouching over the desk," "looking back at another student," "talking," "mumbling to yourself," "fake coughing or sneezing," "asking to go to the rest room," "raising your hands too long," "clearing your throat" or "breathing too hard."

I found this preposterous.

So the process of suspension usually starts as follows. A teacher would declare "that's one," meaning a deduction, then if a student interjects "what did I do,"? The teacher would respond: "that's two."

The third deduction automatically sends a student to "COLUMBIA," the detention room managed by two African-America male coaches.

All the Advisory/home rooms are named after a University. My son is in UCONN. I'm not sure why the detention room is called COLUMBIA. And by the way all the teachers at this charter school are white and from out of state. The school's administrators did manage to get two coaches that are African-American from the New York City area. They are the two in charge of the detention room.

Is there something wrong with that picture? Yes, in my opinion. These coaches are more like interrogating officers who hand students a three- to five- page packet called a "reflection packet," asking the students to give an account of the incident that led them to detention.

In most cases students are held for hours and not allowed back in class for the rest of the day the "detainees" account of the incident differs from that of the teacher who sent them out.

My son says he's treated unfairly. Most of the time his account the incident differs with the teacher's. So he winds up being held in detention for hours and missing an average of five hours of classwork a week and his homework begins to accumulate and become overwhelming.

It becomes impossible to catch up with hours of class assignments -- for classes he missed while he was "detained." He would have to make the best guesses; meanwhile the pile of homework that normally takes three hours per night -- he now spends endless hours catching up, not getting enough sleep at night. His grades are sliding as a result.

It's a vicious cycle that has to stop. And not just for my son but for over 50 or more scholars who have been labeled "bad kids".

My own investigation entailed hours of playing mom-detective/social worker about three hours on average per week. I spent time at the school and combed through 40 pages of documents that I demanded by force from the detention coaches/officers. I exchanged about 75 sometimes contentious e-mail messages with teachers, the principal, the assistant principal.

I discovered that one particular teacher, my son's writing teacher, was responsible for most of the "sent-outs" that had resulted in suspensions. I had already noticed a pattern of disciplinary excessiveness in her comments on the weekly progress reports. I had also raised numerous concerns about what I deemed an abuse of authority but the principal and the assistant principal defended her fiercely.

This particular teacher continued to find a litany of reasons to send my son out of her class; daily railroading him into detention knowing for sure that it would lead to suspension. She's succeeded in stigmatizing my son and that has led to him being teased by some of his classmates and other students.

My son now suffers anxiety and has nightmares. Some of the current writings in his personal journal reflects the covert psychological abuse that he's had to endure up until present.

To stop the abuse I recently demanded that my son be taken out of the writing class taught by this particular teacher; the school adamantly refused. When I informed them of all the evidence that I've gathered to formally address this issue, they began to coach other teachers to establish a case against my son.

For example, all his teachers were directed to place a camera in all the classes he attends and one of the teachers videotaped during the lunch hour early this week.

I believe this school broke the law by targeting and exclusively videotaping my son, a minor, without my consent. I believe this is a careless action on their part to intimidate, harass and further traumatize a 12 year old whose passion is to go to school, to work hard and to become a roboticist one day.

Is this the model of charter schools in all communities of color?

In the case of Democracy Prep Charter Middle School in Harlem, there are systemic problems. Having examined the school closely these past five months, I found that there is a cultural discord and a police-like system of discipline that's highly incompatible with the demographic it serves.

Author Bukola Shonuga is an independent journalist listed with the US Foreign Press Center.*

16 comments:

  1. This is child abuse. Do other parents with children in Democracy Prep know this is going on?

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    1. I'm so glad I found this site. I have been going through hell since my son started at Democracy Prep in Sept. My son was suspended and I went to the school board. They did nothing. I am still fighting. I believe my son was targeted because I am a public school teacher. So I now realize that it's not him. They have ulterior motive. Namely, Emmanuel George, who has an expired administrative license. He is the ass't supt of middle schools, a new position they came up with to still use him as an administrator. None of the principals are certified. They all, including the teachers, have no license or expired teacher's licenses. Yes, and ACS knows and they have done nothing. I have complained to them and they haven't done anything.

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    2. First and Foremost I'm sorry for any pain you and your son have endured because of Democracy Prep. I was rasied in the South and taught school in the South. I'm a parent of two children who live in New York City. MIddle is HELL! for students and Teachers. My son is going to 4th grade and I honeslty fear the day he has to go to middle school. My son cama to New York when he was four years old, he grow up saying yes ma'am no ma'am, opening doors for strangers. Your son is in the wrong, we should have never said anything under his breathe. Would he have said that to you? If the answer is no, then he shouldn't have done it at school.

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  2. I have been going through hell since my son started at Democracy Prep in September of 2013. I believe he was targeted because I am a public school teacher. Now i know what I need to do. They are and have been abusive of children. And ACS is aware and have not done anything. I know of a student with special needs who they got rid of and he is doing well in the regular public school.

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    1. Parents have many options if your child is unhappy then send him of her to their home school. You can't complain about the system but countine to let himii be abused. Take him out send him to another school.

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  3. I have had the same experience. My son started off with As and Bs and then one teacher targeted him. First, she lied and said he cursed. My son he mumbled, "she get on my nerves" while the teacher was in font of the classroom. she saw his lips move and said he cursed at another student. My son was very upset and never forgave her for that. When I didn't let up about that first suspension, the ass't supt and co-principals tried unsuccessfully to convince my son that people make mistakes and he has to be open to give the teacher a chance. Only because I didn'yt let up about what was the first of a spiral downhill for my son. It's funny how hypocritical they are. they expect a 12 year old to be understanding but they micromanage and expect my son to be a robot and act like he's a slave. The slave mentality, with uncle Tom and aunt Sally, the master, the CEO, Seth Andrews, Katy Duffie, and the millionaires who back them up financially.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, children should respect adults. Your son should have never mumbled anything. Would he speak to you like that?

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    2. When you and your kids are perfect, only then you may speak on the matter.

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  4. My child has attended Democracy Prep. Washington D.C. for 5days and i'm already prepared to take her out.Parents are not allowed into the school or classrooms.I don't even know where my child class is.Its like there hiding the way they talk and treat our kids cause your not allowed to see the classes.I still have not seen or meet the principle.All i see every morning and evening is this tall man dressed in bright clothing yelling at the parents every single day since school started.There sending kids home because of their uniforms and the uniform company still has not delivered the ordered uniforms to the school.I think their pushing the kids to hard to prep for college and not letting them be kids.Im still trying to understand why if they have table,chairs and benches inside of the gate why are they making it a big deal to lock out parents,grandparent and elderly outside the gate when they could be waiting patiently on them benches.

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  5. I am a parent at freedom prep middle school in Camden and that school is nothing but hell, my child is constantly in trouble and always getting singled out, furthermore I have sat in a few of his classes and I have seen the principal yelling at children like they are not even human, one time I was sitting in my sons class and I heard screaming in the hall way and it was a dream coach yelling at a scholar saying if she didn't tuck in her shirt she would be suspended...I can't take this school anymore I highly recommend that anyone who was thinking about enrolling their child in this school not to

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  6. My daughter goes to democracy prep endurance in the Harlem I have nothing but praises for this school. I love the principal Ms. Marrer. I love the fact that the teachers challenge the students to be better; I love the fact that they have to read and count their words; I love the fact that they take them one trips to historical and political places. They give their scholars a future to look forward too. They reward them for all their hard work. I love the fact that its not like a normal public school which can be over crowd and sometimes children can be over looked and undereducated. I am sorry for any discomfort that your children received at any of the Democracy Prep schools. My daughter loves her school and what it stands for. She has been apart of so much and has excelled since being their since the 6th grade. She received a letter from the mayor of NYC for having the highest math score throughout the state. She has been chosen to take high school credit classes while still attending middle school. They will push your child for excellence and I am so grateful for them. Good luck with your children

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  7. Thank you for your post. I have been debating If I should send him here because my son needs structure but not confinement. Education must also be a form of enjoyment . As parents we must be the best advocate for our children.

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  8. Democracy Prep is not suitable for children who are smart, inquisitive, expressive, strong leaders, or hands-on learner. however, it is more suitable for children who are passive. Democracy Prep trains students to be robots, not to question, even while learning in the classroom.

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  9. How can I set a law suit against the school. My daughter was insured at school with a slightly torn ACL in 2013 the school contacted me about it and I brought her to the ER. The school was notified on the type of injury she sustained. School 2014 she was told if she does participate in gym she will receive a zero even though this same gym teacher carried her into the school the year before last and knows about her injury. My daughter being the straight A student she is participated in gym playing basketball mind you I have no clue this is going on. Next thing I know I receive another call from the school stating that my daughter was severely hurt and I needed to come down to the school. I totally flipped out and requested for them to bring her themselves to the hospital and met them there she was diagnosed with a completely torn ACL and Meniscus. She currently needs surgery but I can't provide that right now because she needs accommodations the school can't provide. My daughter is now currently in the high school and was given a demerit for not taking off her sweater while walking up the stair case in which she did not because she was afraid she would fall while walking up the stairs and it was crowded with other students she waited until she got to the classroom where she felt safe to do so due to her ACL injury. She tried explaining this to the teachers and they were being very disrespectful towards her this is a student who never gets in trouble which is hard to accomplish in Democracy prep period. She winds up calling me on her cell phone in the hallway because it was too much to handle I ask her to place the teacher on the phone so I can speak to the teacher whom had the nerve to disrespect her and my self. This is only happening because the school isn't doing anything to stop this from happening. I understand you stand behind your teachers but when they are wrong they are wrong and they need to be counseled for it. To make things worst they gave her another demerit for calling me on her cell phone. When I contacted the school all I'm hearing is them say they treat all scholars the same and talking about policies and procedures making me feel as if my child is just a number to them and not a person. My daughter attended the middle school when ever I had a concern or my child had a concern they always made me feel like a person they took accountability and solved the problem this is not the same for the high school and I'm looking to speak with the principle tomorrow and if this does not get solved I'm gonna get a petition started so I can get our children voices heard about these problems they need to be talked about and we need to be heard if I have to bring this to the news attention I will.

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  10. Thank you for writing all of this. I am a teacher and I avoided applying to Democracy Prep because I didn't like their philosophy and have never read good things about them. One of their recruiters got a hold of my resume. I won't apply there because kids who are not happy do not learn. I have taught in and visited many schools. A class where the students are smiling and they are able to talk and share ideas is the best type. The information in and information out approach gives you kids who can't problem solve. Keep looking and please find your kids a better place!

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  11. hi as a former student from DPCS back in 2009 i'm telling You know it a bad school to begin with to the "academicians" to bad student drama were there have been incidents among the students body were a student blurred out said "... and this is why i don't like white people" were as a student and a person mixed with European ancestry were I have to feel deafened and embarrassed not only for me but for the teacher who was teaching at the time. also, as a victim of bullying the staff didn't really do much even the giuldence conculor were i did ask for a safety transfer didn't want to give in the first place it took my whole yes WHOLE family to convince the bitch to give the transfer papers. also, the environment as more like a prison than a school were at one point i did want to give up on everything mind you is only 14 at the time. luckily, my mind was sanity was intacted when i was taking to the teachers that i was cool with and my drawing and reading saved me from falling to depression half the time. inclusion, when i officially left that prion i had to go to counselling for the whole summer because in all honesty the damage was already done to me and still haunts me till this day.

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Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Comment moderation is on, so if your comment does not appear it is because I have not been at my computer (I do not do cell phone moderating).