charter schools

Success Academy ‘Dumped’ Elementary School Student at Precinct, Suit Charges

Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz
Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz Photo: Alex Zimmerman/Chalkbeat

A Success Academy elementary school pushed out a Brooklyn student with special needs by repeatedly suspending him, calling child services on his mother, and even dropping him off at a police precinct, according to a federal lawsuit.

The complaint, filed Monday on behalf of Tanwa Omolade and her son, alleges that the charter network engaged in a “campaign of harassment” designed to force a behaviorally difficult student out of Success Academy Bed-Stuy 1.

Omolade’s complaint is the latest example in the ongoing debate about whether Success, and other charter schools, encourage students with a range of challenges to leave. Her lawsuit comes just months after state education officials found that the charter network — which is the city’s largest — violated the civil rights of students with disabilities by changing their special education services without parental input.

The lawsuit makes a number of allegations that have popped up against Success and other charter networks before: that they have threatened parents with child welfare investigations, held students back from advancing to the next grade level for disciplinary reasons, and generally use harsh discipline practices that have a disproportionate effect on students with disabilities.

Ann Powell, a Success Academy spokeswoman wrote in an email that “the lawsuit is completely without merit and contains numerous factual inaccuracies” but said she could not go into detail due to federal privacy laws. Success officials, including CEO Eva Moskowitz, have previously argued that strict discipline is an essential driver of the network’s academic strength.

Suspended Four Times in Fourth Grade

The complaint says Omolade’s son, who has oppositional defiant disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was suspended at least four times in his fourth grade year. (The son is not named in the lawsuit.)

Leo Glickman, the lawyer who filed suit on behalf of Omolade, said the son “has a diagnosed mental disability which does lead to behavioral issues,” but that he is on track academically. “He’s not supposed to be suspended each time that his disability afflicts him.”

Photo: Chalkbeat

In addition, the suit alleges, school officials called child services twice to complain that the mother “could not control her child” — prompting an internal investigation by the police department into Omolade, who is an NYPD employee. Both child services complaints were closed as “unfounded,” according to the lawsuit.

That same year, Success officials “forcibly removed” Omolade’s son from school during regular hours and took him to a Brooklyn police station. “They just dumped him at the police precinct to sit and wait with strangers,” the lawsuit says.

And finally, the lawsuit alleges that the school threatened to keep the son back a grade level even though “he at least met expectations in his subjects.”

Omolade ultimately pulled her son from Success at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensation for emotional distress and “loss of educational opportunity.”

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here: ckbe.at/newsletters