EXCLUSIVE: Mom says Brooklyn Success Academy unjustly punished her first-grader with 45-day suspension over alleged attack
A mother says Success Academy Prospect Heights target her child after he was suspended for 45 days for allegedly throwing a stool at an assistant principal and dragging her down the hall by her hair.
When a 55-pound first-grader tussled with Success Academy Prospect Heights’ assistant principal, the boy’s mom believes the fight was fixed.
The 7-year-old, already battling a disability, was removed from class for a whopping 45 days after school officials said he hurled a stool at the woman and dragged her down a hallway by the hair.
His mother and lawyer came out swinging against the accusations, claiming the staff unfairly targeted the boy. They say the student was suspended 10 times since the beginning of January.
“He’s just a child,” said the mom, who asked to remain anonymous because her son and a daughter are still enrolled at the school. “They’ve been trying to push him out of the school since day one.”
The boy’s mother said he suffers from a blood disorder called beta thalassemia that causes fatigue and irritability.
Success Academy officials contend the student is a danger to himself and those around him. They also said the boy hit staffers, destroyed classroom items and ran away from class in multiple incidents since he started at the school in October.
Success officials also said the boy hit the assistant principal, threw objects at other kids, and hit and bit safety agents.
Brooklyn Legal Services attorney Nancy Bedard, who represents the boy, said the case illustrates how the city’s largest charter chain wants to purge difficult kids from its system — a claim Success has long denied.
“This is a school that does not understand child development and they do not understand or seem to care about educating children with disabilities,” Bedard said.
Success Academy officials contend the student is a danger to himself and those around him.
(Tracy, John, Freelance)
But Success spokeswoman Nicole Sizemore insisted the boy engaged in violent and aggressive acts and inflicted serious bodily injury on the assistant principal. The educator needed treatment at an urgent care center.
And she defended the school’s handling of his case, saying the academy provided him with two hours of daily one-on-one instruction with a tutor. Sizemore also said Success Academy offered the mom a hearing before the boy was removed from class.
“Numerous psychologists and other professionals at Success and the (Department of Education) committee for special education have worked for months to provide this student with support,” Sizemore said.
“When the safety of other children and staff are at risk, as they were during repeated episodes of his hitting, biting, throwing furniture, and quite literally dragging an assistant principal down the hall by yanking her hair — we had to protect all concerned,” she added.
Still, suspensions of 45 days are extremely rare in city schools and typically require a hearing. Traditional public schools in New York City issued just 261 such suspensions in the 2015-16 school year, accounting for only 0.7% of 37,647 suspensions handed down.
Infractions warranting the stiff penalty include setting a fire, selling drugs or engaging in physical sexual aggression, according to the school system’s disciplinary code.
After the boy’s removal from school, his mom and her lawyer took the case to an independent city Education Department hearing officer.
He found the boy’s behavior was not severe enough to warrant Success Academy’s punishment, and issued a decision requiring the school to take him back.
The unnamed mother also said the Success Academy has made multiple attempts to push her child from the school.
“These allegations do not rise to the level of serious bodily injury,” read the hearing officer’s decision. “Rather, I agree with the parent that such conduct even if true, which I doubt, could not create a substantial risk.”
Success representatives were not present at the hearing, and spokeswoman Sizemore said the hearing officer refused to hear from witnesses.
The school readmitted the boy on March 31 — after 25 days of missing class — but his mom says he’s still traumatized.
“He doesn’t trust teachers and he feels like he’s being branded,” said the mom.
After just two days back at school, he was suspended again — this time for allegedly acting up in class, his mom said.
Success Academy enrolls about 14,000 students. It is the fast-growing network, operates 41 city schools and will operate 46 by 2018.
The charter school network outperforms traditional public schools on state exams, but it has been accused of employing harsh disciplinary practices and pushing out troublesome students for years.
In 2016 the academy disciplined a school administrator at a different Brooklyn school for creating a list of students that “got to go.”
But Success Academy schools have higher retention rates than district schools in the same neighborhoods, city Education Department records show.