“There was a point when I was getting a call every day for every minor thing,” Zapata said. “They would say he was crying excessively, or not looking straight forward, or throwing a tantrum, or not walking up the stairs fast enough, or had pushed another kid.”Actually, Zapata isn't alone in saying that the school didn't provide the special education her son needed. The tapes she secretly made reveal a Success Academy administrator saying that "We’re technically out of compliance because we aren’t able to meet what his IEP recommends for him." Success officials directly pushed her to transfer her son away from the charter and into public schools.
What school officials did not do, Zapata said, was provide the kind of special education services that her son’s individual educational plan, or IEP, requires.
That plan calls for daily speech therapy and occupational therapy for Yael. It also requires him to be placed in a smaller class, one staffed by both a regular teacher and a special education teacher.
Having charter school officials on tape saying these things may be something new, but charter schools finding ways to avoid educating kids with special needs or challenges is nothing new. The results of that are stark, with starkly lower percentages of special education students in New York City, with 86 percent of Florida charter schools not having even one student with a severe disability as of 2011, a Minneapolis charter school telling the families of 40 kids with autism or Down Syndrome to basically get lost, and Nashville charter schools kicking kids with discipline problems out just in time for testing. Success Academy is right on board with this way of doing business:
At Harlem Success 1, the oldest school in the network, 22% of pupils got suspended at least once during the 2010-11 school year, state records show. That’s far above the 3% average for regular elementary schools in its school district.Success denies that this is to get rid of kids who have special needs, but many parents tell a different story—as do those numbers. At base, the question is this: Do we have an education system in which schools have to do their best to educate all kids, or do we have an education system in which schools can pick and choose and refuse kids with disabilities? Because right now, we have public schools doing the former, charter schools doing the latter, and then politicians claiming charter schools are better based on results they get by kicking out kids who might not test well.
Four other Success schools—the only others in the network to report figures for 2010-11—had an average 14% suspension rate.