Dromm To Highlight Right To Opt Out Of Standardized Tests

By Michael Florio

Originally published in the Jackson Heights Post on April 1, 2016


The New York State English Language Arts exams are set to take place next week and Council Member Daniel Dromm wants parents to know they have options.

Dromm will be hosting a meeting on Sunday at noon in front of the Jackson Heights Post Office, located at 78-02 37th Ave., where he will alert parents that they have the option of allowing their children to opt out of the test.

“I want to inform parents of their right to opt out,” he said. “I don’t think the [Department of Education] made that as well known to parents as they should have.”

The ELA test will start Tuesday and run through Thursday. The math test will take place the following week.

The test, which students in grades three through eight take, is used to evaluate students’ skills and mastery of content, as well as to help shape future instruction, according to the DOE.

The test is also used as part of the teacher evaluation process.

For Dromm, this use of the test is problematic.

“The tests used to be used to determine where a child was academically and what they need more help in,” Dromm, a former teacher, said. “The reformers came up with the idea to use the grades to evaluate schools and teachers.”

“The tests were never intended for these purposes,” he said.

While parents have been able to remove their children from these tests for years, opting out has only picked up momentum recently due to the pressures now placed on children, Dromm said.

Dromm said in recent years parents have caught on and now the movement to opt out is gaining traction. Last year more than 240,000 students chose to opt out, according to his office.

“Parents realize that the tests are not being used properly,” he said. “That’s when they revolted and said no more to these tests.”

Parents who are interested in opting out of the test should speak to their child’s principal, according to the DOE.

If a student does opt out of the test, the school will work to the best of its ability to provide the child with an alternate education activity, such as reading, during test times, the DOE said.

Read more here.

At Site of Gay Man’s Murder, a Street Corner Acknowledges Its Past

By David Gonzalez

Originally published by the NY Times on March 20, 2016


A street sign in Jackson Heights, Queens, that commemorates Julio Rivera, who was killed in an attack in July 1990 that authorities later called a hate crime. Credit David Gonzalez/The New York Times

There is little about the intersection of 78th Street and 37th Avenue to distinguish it from any other corner in Jackson Heights. Every day, dozens of parents — from dozens of countries — waiting for their children to be dismissed from school stand beneath a sign declaring the intersection “Julio Rivera Corner.” Many of them likely do not even notice it, yet with those three words, the sign acknowledges a tragic — and ultimately transforming — moment in Queens.

Julio Rivera, a 29-year-old gay man who worked as a bartender, was lured to the schoolyard, steps away from that corner, on July 2, 1990. Three white skinheads who wanted to “reclaim” their neighborhood from gays and homeless people set upon him, bashing his skull with a hammer and finishing him off with a knife. His death might have gone unnoticed if not for a few relatives and gay friends who began to mobilize New York City’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and put pressure on the Police Department, which had assigned the case to a detective who was on vacation.

Mr. Rivera’s killing, which the authorities deemed a hate crime, resulted in a manslaughter conviction against the trio’s ringleader, Daniel Doyle. He testified against his two accomplices, who were convicted of murder. The charges against them were overturned and one of the men pleaded guilty to manslaughter before a retrial; the other, who had jumped bail before the retrial, was killed in Mexico in 2002. Both surviving men have since served their sentences.

Councilman Daniel Dromm, who was a public-school teacher in the neighborhood at the time of the murder, said it spurred him to become more active in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues and take the fight for gay rights out of Manhattan and into immigrant and working-class communities. Two years after the attack, Mr. Dromm, a Democrat, came out publicly when he defended Children of the Rainbow, a citywide curriculum that had been introduced to teach tolerance to youngsters but met with great resistance from the local school district.

“The controversy over Children of the Rainbow, along with the murder of Julio Rivera, was Queens’s Stonewall,” Mr. Dromm said, referring to the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village that is widely seen as a turning point in the fight for gay rights. “It was a call to action. In many ways, it led to numerous other victories.”

That includes the establishment of the neighborhood gay pride parade and a political club that helped push for same-sex marriage in recent years, all of which are featured in “Julio of Jackson Heights,” a documentary by Richard Shpuntoff that had its premiere last week at the Queens World Film Festival.

Mr. Shpuntoff grew up in the area and volunteered to photograph Jackson Heights’ first pride parade in 1993, something he would continue to do for 20 years. He decided to make the documentary as a way to highlight the changes that have swept over the neighborhood since Mr. Rivera’s murder. It is a measure of progress that people at the parade almost take its existence for granted.

“It was amazing that this had become part of the community,” Mr. Shpuntoff said. “But people forgot that when it first happened it was a whole different situation than today, when people march casually. Back then, people were really afraid and no one really knew what would happen at the first parade. There was organization, sacrifice and commitment by a range of people who had formed a coalition around Julio’s murder.”

Peg Fiore, who at the time of the killing was married to Julio’s brother Ted, said the local gay community was, at first, among the family’s few allies. Weeks after the murder, she and Ted participated in a vigil by the playground where Mr. Rivera was killed, a bit unnerved and unsure if anyone would attend. She said her fears were dispelled when she saw scores of people getting off the subway on Roosevelt Avenue to attend.

She said Mr. Rivera — who had moved to Jackson Heights from Manhattan because he felt it was safer there — was “an unlikely hero,” something that the documentary does not shy away from. In the film, a former lover recounted the time Mr. Rivera used cocaine and then disappeared for a month.

“He was full of imperfections,” Ms. Fiore said. “But that’s what I love. He is us. Everyone could relate to him. He was this unlikely hero who has been immortalized.”

Although the police are more responsive these days, Mr. Dromm remains concerned about attacks on transgender people, of which there have been several in recent years. And lest others take for granted how far they have come, he takes part in an annual moment of silence held on the corner that was named for Mr. Rivera.

Events like that remind Ms. Fiore that her brother-in-law’s death was not in vain. She said she has not forgotten the support her family received from the gay community. It is a lesson she hopes others can learn from, especially during a political season in which Donald J. Trump has based his Republican candidacy for president on what she sees as intolerance.

“There are people who don’t understand the danger of hating another group simply because they are different from you,” she said. “There are people out there feeling this, and that’s frightening. We can’t get comfortable.”

Read more here.

NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade Steps Into New Era

Gay-Irish group Lavender and Green Alliance joins New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade for first time


By Mara Gay and Zolan Kanno-Young

Brendan Fay, Edith Windsor, Daniel Dromm and Malachy McCourt broke out in song before heading off on Fifth Avenue with the Lavender and Green Alliance in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. PHOTO: STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


They were among the last groups to march in the parade Thursday, and faced a burst of chilly rain as the day began to stretch into evening.

But for members of the gay-Irish group who marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue for the first time, it was a moment to cheer the end of a 25-year fight to be included in one of the world’s largest celebrations of Irish heritage.

“We are feeling the joy of being together, of having overcome,” said Brendan Fay, a founder of the Lavender and Green Alliance, the gay-Irish group that joined the parade this year after organizers lifted a long-standing ban on gay-Irish groups.

Mayor Bill de Blasio joined the group, after years of boycotting the parade in solidarity with the alliance. He also marched with the police and fire departments.

As the latest group to join the event, the Lavender and Green Alliance was placed near the end of the hourslong procession, and didn’t enter the parade, which began at 11 a.m., until after 4 p.m. That meant the some 200 members faced mostly empty streets, with most parade-goers having gone home.

Nearly all those who remained along the parade route cheered and applauded as the group walked slowly by with their green and lavender sashes, and rainbow flags.

“Everybody has to live and let live,” said James Stafford, 47 years old. “We’re all God’s children.”

Sonnia Ehlers, 59 years old, who sat in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral when the gay-Irish group marched by, said she wished gay organizations weren’t allowed to march.

“God made you a woman and a man and that’s the way it should be,” she said.

Marie Hilliard, 68, of southern Italy, said she was fine with gay organizations marching, unless they were promoting their sexuality more than Irish heritage.

Police officers from Ireland walked on Fifth Avenue on Thursday.
Police officers from Ireland walked on Fifth Avenue on Thursday. PHOTO: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES


 “It would’ve caused a fuss if they weren’t included,” Ms. Hilliard said in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. She added that “if they are taking part because it’s St. Patrick’s Day, then fine.”

Christine Quinn, the first openly gay speaker of the New York City Council, also joined the Lavender and Green Alliance in the parade, as did council members Corey Johnson, Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer.

Ms. Quinn, who was arrested multiple times protesting the ban over the years, took a moment to reflect on the moment with her 89-year-old father, Lawrence P. Quinn.

“I thought the battle would take longer and I thought he would have gone on to see his maker before this happened,” she said.

The decision to allow the gay-Irish groups wasn’t without controversy.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, called the decision a “disgrace.” His group stopped marching after the parade allowed Out@NBC-Universal, an employee group, to participate last year.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, join the parade.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, join the parade. PHOTO: STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


Mr. de Blasio said it would be “a very healing day.”

“For two decades or more we had a blemish on our city,” he said of the ban on gay-Irish groups, which organizers said was based on religious objections to homosexuality.

The mayor marched three times Thursday: first with the New York Police Department, then with the Fire Department of New York, and finally with the Lavender and Green Alliance, donning a lavender and green sash as he walked the route with his wife, Chirlane McCray.

Earlier in the day, at a breakfast at Gracie Mansion where the mayor’s emerald-clad guests mingled amid a breakfast of soda bread and tea, Ms. McCray said it was impossible to talk about the history of New York City without talking about its Irish roots.

Ms. McCray also joked that her husband’s name for the day should be “Bill O’Blasio.”

The mayor also joined hundreds for a morning Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to celebrate the holiday, where he sat beside New York Police Commissioner William Bratton.

In many ways, the parade went on as always, with tens of thousands of revelers filling the streets around Fifth Avenue and cheering as groups with bagpipes and drums marched through Manhattan.

Martine O’Neill, 49, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, flew into the city on Monday for the parade, which had its start in the year 1762.

“We’re having a ball,” she said, adding, “I can’t wait to go to the bar.”

Read more here.

AP: NY Mayor to March in St. Pat’s Parade After Gay Ban Dropped

Photo by William Alatriste.


NEW YORK — Mar 2, 2016, 6:26 PM ET

Mayor Bill de Blasio is ending a two-year boycott of the nation’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade now that it has fully dropped its longstanding ban on allowing gay and lesbian groups to march under their own banners.

De Blasio, a first-term Democrat, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that for the first time he will take part in the parade along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. He skipped the parade in 2014, when no gay groups were allowed to openly march, and he skipped again last year, when only one small lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group was permitted.

“The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a New York City tradition, but for years Irish LGBT New Yorkers could not show their pride,” de Blasio told the AP a day ahead of a planned formal announcement. “Finally, they can celebrate their heritage by marching in a parade that now represents progress and equality.”

This year, more than 300 people will march under the banner of the Lavender and Green Alliance, an Irish LGBT group that had worked for 25 years to reverse the ban and, when those efforts stalled, founded a competing parade, called St. Patrick’s For All, which marches every year in Queens and allows all groups to participate.

“Our hearts will be dancing,” said Brendan Fay, the head of the group.

Fay gave credit to de Blasio, who was the first mayor in more than 20 years to refuse to participate in the Manhattan parade, saying his boycott put pressure on the parade’s organizers to change their policies. A year ago, organizers allowed OUT@NBCUniversal, a gay organization at NBC, which televises the festivities, to participate, but de Blasio and several other elected officials said that wasn’t enough and continued to abstain from participating in the 255-year-old march.

“It wasn’t truly inclusive until it included an Irish gay group,” said Councilman Daniel Dromm, a Democratic member of the City Council’s Irish and LGBT caucuses. “This allows us to express, in full, who we really are. When you’ve been excluded for something for so long, when you finally realize your dream is coming true, it’s very emotional.”

Dromm will be joined by several members of the City Council, including its speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Democrat who also boycotted the last two years. Aides to de Blasio said he would march in the first portion of the parade with police officers, firefighters and other members of the city’s uniformed services and then spend some of the parade under the Lavendar and Green Alliance’s banner.

It’s customary for the groups marching, some of whom have been participating for decades, to proceed in the same order, with new groups relegated to the end. But parade organizers said the new gay group would not be placed at the end of the lineup.

“We want this to be our most inclusive parade ever,” said John Lahey, chairman of the parade. “We hope that it will bring New Yorkers from all backgrounds together in a way that maybe our previous parades didn’t.”

Lahey, who also is the president of Quinnipiac University, said that no groups dropped out this year after the decision to include the gay organizations, though some had complained the previous year when OUT@NBCUniversal was allowed.

But some longtime parade participants condemned the changes.

“The mayor is a disgrace who bullied everyone to having the type of parade that he wanted,” said Bill Donohue, of the Catholic League, who stopped marching a year ago over the decision to allow LGBT banners. “They are making this just an Irish parade, not a Catholic parade. It’s contemptible.”

This year’s parade, which will mark the 100th anniversary of an insurrection that led to Ireland’s independence, will feature former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as grand marshal. Mitchell, a Democrat and a primary architect of 1998’s Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland, had told organizers he would not participate if LGBT groups were not permitted.

Contact the author on Twitter @JonLemire

Greater Metropolitan New York Social Studies Conference 2016

Originally published by the United Federation of Teachers on February 18, 2016


Queens City Councilman and Rosa Parks Award honoree Danny Dromm (third from right) with teachers (from left) Patrick Fortunato, Maria Katsanos, Sue Kirlew, Nyddia Lugo and Philomena Ejiogu of IS 238, Queens. (Photo Credit: Miller Photography)

More than 230 teachers participated in the 56th annual Greater Metropolitan New York Social Studies Conference sponsored by the Association of Teachers of Social Studies/UFT at UFT headquarters on Feb. 6. Awards were presented to civil rights leader and union activist Norman Hill and to Queens City Councilman Danny Dromm, a former teacher who now heads the Council’s Education Committee.

Read more here.

Progress for LGBT kids in NYC public schools

By the amNY Editorial Board

Originally published in amNY on February 1, 2016


This is a first-grade classroom at Branch Brook Elementary School in Smithtown at the end of the day Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas.

There’s never been a comprehensive, citywide effort to address the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender public school students and staff — or those who are unsure of their gender identities or sexuality. It’s been a hodgepodge of uncoordinated efforts, and it’s mostly voluntary.

Enter Jared Fox. He is the Department of Education’s new liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community — a position that didn’t exist before this year. His goals are laudable. He hopes to create an inclusive curriculum that spans nearly every subject, rethink gender-based guidelines, establish a more hospitable workplace, and expand professional development for all staff, from secretaries and custodians to parent coordinators and principals.

It’s a shame it took so long for NYC to put these concerns on the front burner. One more for the “better late, than never” file. It’s been six years since 12-year-old Astoria public school student Elijah Mendez hanged himself, a decision his mother blamed on harassment from classmates who thought he was gay. Later that year, 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Indiana committed suicide for similar reasons. Then, Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Quickly, Seattle columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign — an effort to give gay and lesbian youth hope — spread nationally.

But even as that spotlight grew, in NYC, little changed. The last available school survey, issued in 2013 by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, found that students statewide said they’re still harassed and bullied, and schools still don’t offer the resources they need.

Thanks to a push from people like Queens Councilman Daniel Dromm, who was once a city public school teacher and came out nearly 25 years ago, city officials have taken a first step. Now, we hope Fox gets support from the DOE bureaucracy to make a difference. He must develop a strategic plan, create curricula, clubs and welcoming environments in every school, establish standards across the system, and involve staff and parents. Then, perhaps, he can reach the children, who need education, support and love.

Read more here.

Ed Department’s First LGBTQ Liaison Aims to Make Schools Safe for Everyone

Originally published in DNAinfo on January 26, 2016

Jared Fox is the first to hold the position with the DOE. Photo courtesy of Jared Fox.

NEW YORK CITY — Jared Fox’s first job when he joined the Department of Education was training teachers across the city to use smartboards, iPads and other technology.

But it was his volunteer after-school work as the founder of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network’s New York chapter that led him to his current groundbreaking position with the DOE — as the department’s first liaison for LGBTQ students.

“The thing that kept me awake at night was LGBTQ students, and making sure that they were safe,” said Fox, 28, who said he experienced discrimination while growing up gay in Cleveland and attending Catholic schools, and even as an adult while teaching in Louisiana.

“This position is really important for kids who are out and experiencing things [like] bullying and coming to terms with their identity. Then there’s also this huge population of kids who are still trying to figure out who they are.”

The position was created within the department’s Office of Safety and Youth Development to support LGBTQ students and work with the community.

So far, Fox has settled into the job by listening and meeting with principals, teachers and students. While some schools have established groups and resources for LGBTQ students, others are just starting to pull those things together, he said.

Lois Herrera, CEO of the Office of Safety and Youth Development, said the DOE hopes to “promote a positive school climate and culture” for LGBTQ students.

Fox is “a valuable addition to our team, who will be working with city agencies and community organizations to help schools support, protect and provide resources to LGBTQ students, families and community members,” she added.

Funding for the role was made possible by the City Council, which voted to set aside money in the budget for the position. Spearheading the charge was Councilman Danny Dromm, a former public school teacher who came out in 1992 and has been at the forefront of pushing for LGBTQ issues.

Dromm said when he worked in the classroom, gay teachers and students had to stay mostly closeted. He was even disciplined by his Sunnyside school administration after telling his students he was gay.

“The department has taken a bold step forward to assure students and teachers alike that anti-gay discrimination will not be tolerated and that, in fact, the department will look for ways to be more inclusive of the LGBT communities,” Dromm said.

For Fox, the journey to his new job has been a very personal one.

As a student in Cleveland, his mom had to pull him out of his local Catholic high school because of bullying. He transferred to his local public school, which he said was the “best thing that happened to me.”

While there, he started the city’s first gay-straight alliance, pushing for same-sex couples to be allowed at proms.

Fox later taught English through the Teach for America program in a New Orleans-area school, finding more students who needed his guidance.

The city is “a blue dot in a red state, but it’s still Louisiana,” he said, and many kids struggled with their identities.

He eventually launched another gay-straight alliance, this time as a teacher, helping students come to terms with their sexuality and offering a place for them to discuss it.

Fox’s three years as a teacher in Louisiana “helped me to build a lot of empathy with what teachers go through and having to make schools safer,” he said.

He joined the DOE three years ago in their technology department, and he’s excited to now be able to make his part-time passion his focus.

“As we go forward it’s first about listening and then about building a community-driven strategy,” he said.

Fox has taken an interest in the school curriculum, which he said currently only includes the history of the Stonewall Riots and the AIDS epidemic in its LGBTQ-related curriculum.

“That’s the only two things that’s state-mandated that kids need to learn — you have to fight, and you’re going to die,” he said.

He hopes to expand that curriculum by bringing LGBTQ authors into schools and adding their books to the curriculum so students have a more balanced portrayal.

Ultimately, Fox’s job is to make a more welcoming environment for everyone, including teachers, faculty and families.

“I want them to feel safe,” he said.

Read more here.

Time to Support New York Students with Billions Still Owed from Campaign for Fiscal Equity

By Hon. Daniel Dromm, Chairperson, NYC Council Committee on Education

Originally published in the Gotham Gazette on January 25, 2016

Council Member Dromm (middle), the author, at the Queens Library.  Photo courtesy of the Gotham Gazette.

Council Member Dromm (middle), the author, at the Queens Library. Photo courtesy of the Gotham Gazette.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently proposed budget plan for education is a mixed bag, but represents a major shift from his attacks on public education in years past. Ultimately, however, his plan falls short by allocating less than $1 billion in new education money this year at a time when public schools are still owed more than $4.4 billion in Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) funding.

The CFE was a lawsuit brought by parents against the State of New York over a decade ago. These parents charged the State with failing to provide public school students with an adequate education. In 2006, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding the State in violation of a student’s constitutional right to a “sound and basic education” by underfunding schools.

Nearly ten years later students have still not received the money due to them. The State still owes New York City a staggering $2 billion, leaving our public schools woefully underfunded.

Even the $1.3 billion school aid increase provided in the 2015-16 budget was not enough to restore the massive cuts our schools suffered earlier in the decade. Public schools in immigrant and low-income communities are particularly affected, most of which are owed over 77% of outstanding CFE dollars.

Just imagine the transformative impact a $4.4 billion dollar investment in public education would have on our children’s lives. If adequately funded, schools would have the ability to hire additional teachers and school support personnel. Among other things, these sorely needed dollars would provide our students with a more robust physical education and help expand arts education in our schools. These CFE funds would bring about a dramatic reduction in class sizes in New York’s most overcrowded school districts. The possibilities are endless.

Credit where credit is due: I am excited that the Governor sees the value of the community school model and recognizes how successful community schools have been in New York City. Supporting students holistically—by offering support groups and child daycare for parents, access to physical and mental healthcare, mentors for students and other valuable services—will make them successful in many ways.
The $100 million he has allocated for community schools is welcome news, but falls short of the $500 million needed considering that these schools have grown exponentially over the past year.

I am hopeful that the Governor’s budget plan signifies a renewed interest in public education. But it’s high time he settles this ten-year-old debt. New York State must deliver the entire $4.4 billion in CFE funding it owes in order to truly do right by our children. Their futures deserve no less.

Read more here.

EXCLUSIVE: Success Charter Network schools formally accused of violating rights of disabled students

By Juan Gonzalez

Originally published in the New York Daily News on January 20, 2016

Eva Moskowitz is the founder of Success Charter Network, the city’s largest chain of charter schools.  Photo Credit: Barry Williams/For New York Daily News


The city’s largest charter school chain has been violating the civil rights of students with disabilities for years, a group of parents say in a formal complaint lodged Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Education.

The parents of 13 special needs students claim the Success Charter Network, which is run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, “has engaged in ongoing systemic policies that violate” federal laws protecting the disabled. It cites eight Success schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx where the parents’ children were enrolled.

The allegations include:

  • refusing to provide special education pupils appropriate services required by law, while often retaining the students to repeat a grade;
  • multiple suspensions of students without keeping formal records of all those actions, without the due process required by federal law, and without providing alternative instruction;
  • harassing parents to transfer their children back into regular public schools; and even calling 911 to have children as young as 5 transported to emergency rooms when parents don’t pick them up immediately as requested.

“Charter schools like Success Academy should follow the same rules as traditional public schools and protect — not punish — children with disabilities,” Public Advocate Letitia James said.

James joined the complaint, as did City Councilman Daniel Dromm, chair of the council’s Education Committee, and five private non-profit legal advocacy groups. All are calling for federal action.


The charter network did not immediately address the specific allegations.

“We are not in a position to comment on a complaint that we have not seen,” Ann Powell, a spokeswoman for Success Charter Network, said. “We are proud to serve 1,400 students who have special needs.”

Education activists have raised a variety of concerns about the practices at Success Charter Network’s schools.  Photo Credit: Alliance for Quality Education

Education activists have raised a variety of concerns about the practices at Success Charter Network’s schools. Photo Credit: Alliance for Quality Education

The complainants are identified only by letters of the alphabet.

One parent who agreed to be interviewed, Katie Jackson, has a 9-year-old son who began attending kindergarten at Harlem Success 2 in August 2011 and is still enrolled there.

According to the complaint, Jackson’s son, Josiah Dent-Beckett, was diagnosed with several learning disabilities while in first grade and was placed in a general education class that also had a second special ed co-teacher. At the end of that year, the school required him to repeat the first grade.

“He was in a class with 32 students and it was too much for him,” Jackson said. She asked for a smaller class but was told her son had to go on a waiting list.

Public Advocate Letitia James joined the complaint against Success Charter Network.  Photo Credit: Theodore Parisienne/For New York Daily News

Public Advocate Letitia James joined the complaint against Success Charter Network. Photo Credit: Theodore Parisienne/For New York Daily News

“It’s now two, going on three years and he’s still on the waiting list,” Jackson said. “Meanwhile, he’s fallen more behind in school.”

In November, a new evaluation of the boy recommended a smaller class of only 12 students. But according to the complaint, Success administrators told Jackson they had no such class available, and instead were arranging for him to be transferred to a public school.


“The principal told me right to my face, ‘If he comes back next year he will be left back again,’” Jackson said.

Another case describes a girl, identified only as “Student N,” who enrolled in kindergarten at Harlem Success 1 in August 2010. She was already receiving speech and physical therapy in preschool and those services continued at Success, according to the complaint. The school held her back in kindergarten for a second year, then kept her in first grade for two years, but it “never referred N for additional evaluations to further assess her learning difficulties,” the complaint said.

In April 2014, the parent obtained an independent evaluation. It found her daughter had several more disabilities and recommended she be placed in a special ed class of only 12 students, one teacher and one aide. Harlem 1 told the parent it could not provide that setting, according to the complaint, and “threatened to hold N over yet again in first grade if she did not leave school.” The girl now attends a specialized non-public school paid for by the city’s Department of Education.

In response to growing cries nationwide that charter school operators are pushing out special needs pupils, the U.S. Department of Education reminded school systems in March 2014 that federal law requires “all students with disabilities in a public school, including a public charter school, be provided appropriate regular or special education and related aids and services …to meet his or her individual educational needs.”

Critics of Success Network have long suspected its astounding test scores — among the highest in the state — are made possible by its shedding of children with disabilities.

Those scores have greased the network’s rapid growth to 36 schools, garnered it tens of millions of dollars in private donations, and won effusive support from politicians in Albany.

But when your charter network gets to be as big and wealthy as many suburban school districts, what’s the excuse for not appropriately servicing your special needs students? Maybe a federal probe will find out.

Read more here.

Bill de Blasio and NYC politicians expected to march in St. Patrick’s Day 2016 parade

Irish Central Photo

By Debbie McGoldrick

Originally published by the Irish Central on 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to issue a statement on the decision to include the Lavender and Green Alliance in next year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, but multiple sources who spoke to the Irish Voice fully expect the mayor to take part in the event for the first time.

The mayor’s office contacted Lavender and Green founder Brendan Fay last week to discuss the decision, and City Council Member Daniel Dromm of Queens says he “hopes the mayor marches, and I believe he will.”

“It was just a wonderful decision by the parade,” Dromm told the Irish Voice.

“Finally after 25 years, I feel included and validated. I have never marched before in the parade and I’m looking forward to it.”

The New York City Council has boycotted the march for several years due to the lack of an Irish gay group, but Dromm expects his colleagues out in force next March 17.

“I’m chair of the Irish caucus in the council and we are all excited,” Dromm said. “The LGBT caucus is also thrilled. It’s going to be a great day.”

Meanwhile, the Irish government has hailed parade leaders for including Lavender and Green. Speaking to the Irish Voice in New York last week, Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said the move sends a strong message of inclusivity.

“I want to warmly welcome the move, and I want to thank those involved in what has been a controversial and difficult issue over the years,” Flanagan said.

“The Irish government fully supports inclusivity in all our activities. In welcoming this news I say that I expect next year’s St. Patrick’s Day to be bigger and more positive and more inclusive than ever. It’s very good news.”

Read more here.