Charter school network Success Academy, which touts its commitment to children “from all backgrounds,” has been ordered to pay over $2.4 million on a Judgment in a case brought by families of five young Black students with learning and other disabilities who sued after the children were pushed out of a Success Academy school in Brooklyn. Success Academy’s efforts to oust the children even included the creation of a “Got to Go” list, as reported by the New York Times in October 2015, which singled out the students they wanted to push out, including the five child plaintiffs.
The lawsuit, brought by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Advocates for Justice, and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, concluded on March 10, 2021 with Senior United States District Judge Frederic Block’s ruling, which included a precedent-setting determination that federal disability discrimination laws authorize reimbursement of expert fees.
The case charged that Success Academy engaged in practices targeting students with disabilities, in order to force them to withdraw. The practices detailed in the suit included regularly removing the children from the classroom and calling the parents multiple times daily.
“This Judgment provides justice to the children and families who suffered so much,” said Christopher Schuyler, a senior attorney in the Disability Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “It also underscores the need for schools to cease doling out harsh punishments for minor infractions that can interrupt children’s academic progress and divert them into the school-to-prison pipeline.”
“Success Academy’s harsh, inflexible, one-size-fits-all approach to discipline is at odds with its obligation to reasonably accommodate students’ disabilities,” noted Kayley McGrath, an associate in Stroock’s Litigation Group. “These children and their families were forced to withdraw from the Success Academy network not only because their educational needs were not being met, but also because they were explicitly not welcome there. This Judgment recognizes that children with disabilities deserve access to an accommodating learning environment that approaches their needs not with contempt, but with empathy.”
“Success Academy forced these families to withdraw their children by bullying and daily harassment, instead of providing a quality education free from discrimination,” said Laura D. Barbieri, Special Counsel to Advocates for Justice. “New York’s parents and children deserve better, and we are pleased these families achieved justice.”
The litigation centered on five children, then a mere 4 to 5 years old, with diagnosed or perceived disabilities. Success Academy did not provide appropriate accommodations, and frequently dismissed the students prior to the end of the school day – often for behaviors like fidgeting and pouting. Success Academy also threatened to call child welfare authorities to investigate the children’s families, and even sent one child to a hospital psychiatric unit. Each family eventually removed their child from the Success Academy network.