Thursday, June 18, 2015

Parents Object to Success Academy treatment of children with special needs/co-location in Midwood

Dear Ms. Ravitch:

You had blogged about our letter a month ago to Eva Moskowitz asking for a response, regarding a terribly insensitive comment she made about children with special needs. She has not responded.

We learned recently that the NYC Panel on Education Policy has delayed a decision on whether to grant Success Academy a co-location space in Midwood. We have written to the Panel asking that no space be given until Success Academy's record on children with special needs is thoroughly examined. I believe the Panel convenes again on June 10.

We thought you might be interested in our comments to this Panel; the email is below.

And thank you as always for all you do for public education.

Lisa Eggert Litvin
Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA Co President

Dear Panel on Education Policy Members:

We write because we are pleased to hear that you are holding off on a final decision on whether to allow a Success Academy Charter (SA) to co-locate at the Andries Hudde Middle School in Midwood.

We are the Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA Executive Board, and we have been very concerned with Success Academy Charter Schools' treatment of children with special needs. We ask that no space be granted to this chain until SA's record regarding children with special needs is examined thoroughly and is shown to be fair.

SA's record regarding these children has long been a point of contention, with parents relaying, among other things, that these children are pushed out of the SA schools because of their learning issues. In addition, reports are pervasive that SA’s percentage of children with the highest level of special need is far below the percentage in traditional public schools. (See, e.g.,

And just recently, the New York Times published a series of comments from parents whose children attended SA, several of which reinforced that children with special needs face particular and unnecessary hardships at Success Academy schools. "Eva Moskowitz and Success Academy seem to have zero understanding about how to handle children who might learn differently," said one parent, while another commented that "parents with special needs children should be wary."

Making matters much worse, SA’s CEO, Eva Moskowitz, recently made a jaw-dropping and cruel comment that corroborates these concerns. Specifically, Ms. Moskowitz stated that SA does not accept children after third grade because "It's not really fair for the student in seventh grade or a high school student to have to be educated with a child who’s reading at a second or third grade level." Her shocking insensitivity traveled quickly throughout the education community, with parents and educators stunned that she could be so harsh to these children with reading challenges, many of whom have learning differences. (Comment is here: .)

In response to Ms. Moskowitz's comment, we, the Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA and the Hastings Special Education PTA (SEPTA), sent her the email below; as of yet, we have received no response. (Our letter also appeared on Diane Ravitch's blog, here:

Accordingly, we ask that this Panel not authorize additional space to any Success Academy Charter Schools until its record regarding children with special needs is proven to be acceptable and fair.

Very truly yours,

Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA Executive Board, Lisa Eggert Litvin and Jacqueline Weitzman, Co Presidents (article about delaying approval of space)

Sent: Thu, Apr 23, 2015 10:30 am
Subject: Attn: Eva Moskowitz -- Recent troubling comment to WNYC regarding struggling readers
Eva Moskowitz 
Success Academy Charter Schools,
Chief Executive Officer
Dear Ms. Moscowitz:
We write in response to your recent comment to WNYC, explaining why Success Academy schools don't accept new students after fourth grade: "It's not really fair for the student in seventh grade or a high school student to have to be educated with a child who’s reading at a second or third grade level."
As advocates for children, we are deeply troubled by your and Success Academy's view.  Many seventh graders who read at a second or third grade level are children with learning differences. These children already face huge obstacles and prejudices, even as research clearly supports that including these children in general education settings benefits all. 
Inclusive classrooms, which comprise special education students and their general education peers, are academically, socially and emotionally beneficial to both groups.  In fact, the advantages of such classrooms are so powerful and the outcomes often so successful that federal law requires that these children be placed with their non-disabled peers whenever possible (i.e., in the “least restrictive environment”).  At a recent PTA meeting here in Hastings-on-Hudson, parents of general education students specifically asked for their children to be placed in inclusion classes, with their special education peers, once they learned more about the benefits to all that those classrooms produce, including more attention to differentiated learning, as well as additional teaching staff.
In addition, dismissing a child who is reading below-grade level puts too much emphasis on reading and ignores the myriad of other measures of achievement. A child who reads below grade level may excel in math or biology or be an exceptional artist, athlete, or musician.  
We live in a diverse world, and it is our job and our duty to create environments that engender respect, support, and, possibly most important, empathy.  The direction you advocate — separating and rewarding just the highest achievers in selected subjects — does a disservice to all.
So while you state that including struggling readers is "not really fair" to your current Success Academy scholars, what saddens us - and feels truly unfair - is this layer of unnecessary and painful exclusion and hardship, in the name of protecting your high-achieving scholars, that you find appropriate and necessary.
We are happy to meet with you and explain these issues more deeply, if that would be helpful. And in any event, we ask that you issue an apology, and also that your schools make a concerted effort to include children with special needs or learning differences.  It’s not only best practice, ethical, and fair, but it is the law.
Very truly yours,
Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA Executive Board, Lisa Eggert Litvin and Jacqueline Weitzman, Co Presidents
Hastings-on-Hudson SEPTA (Special Education PTA) Executive Board, Nina Segal and Jennifer Cunningham, Co Presidents
(Note that we are sending this to the general information email for Success Academies, because after extensive online searches, as well as numerous phone calls to individual Success Academy Schools and to the State's offices governing charters, we have been unable to obtain an accurate email address for you. We left a message at Success Academy's business office (as it was called by a receptionist at one of the academies) explaining the gist of the letter and asking for your email. If we receive a response, we will forward to that address.)  (We also have sent this, as that is what your Facebook page manager instructed us to do.)

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