City Budget Beefs Up School Construction But Doesn’t Ease Overcrowding

By Yasmeen Khan
Originally published by WNYC on March 8, 2016

When it comes to school overcrowding, and the city’s $14.9 billion school capital plan, there’s good news and there’s bad news.

On a positive note: the city’s Department of Education added $1.4 billion to its plan, with much of these funds allocated for building new schools or additions to buildings to ease overcrowding. This is a significant amount of money, first announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio in January.

The bad news? On top of the added $1.4 billion, the city would realistically need roughly $4 billion more in order to fully fund the Department of Education’s own estimated need of 83,000 seats. As it stands now, the city’s school capital plan funds about 44,000 seats — just over half the demand — through fiscal year 2019.

“We need to continue to fight to get that extra $4 billion into the plan if we’re actually going to meet the need that we currently have,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm at a hearing on the city’s school capital budget Tuesday.

The city’s estimated need of 83,000 seats — an increase of 33,000 from last June — is, in theory, good news as well. The revised estimate comes after the Department of Education changed the way it calculated space in school buildings, in order to get a better handle on school overcrowding.

For years prior, critics said the city’s accounting of school capacity grossly understated overcrowding.

The revised numbers showed that more than half of the city’s elementary and middle school buildings were overcrowded. And after these revised numbers came out, the city amended its capital plan to reflect the overcrowding.

“This is a very significant change versus prior years,” said Elizabeth Rose, deputy chancellor overseeing school facilities, who spoke at the hearing.

The school capital plan isn’t all about overcrowding, though. Here are some of the other projects funded in the plan:

  • The city is spending $670 million to create more than 7,500 new pre-k seats.
  • $450 million has been allocated to remove trailers. The city has removed 73 trailers since 2013, and has plans to remove 107 more. About 175 trailers still need a removal plan.
  • The city will replace all remaining PCB light fixtures by the end of 2016.
  • The city will spend $125 million to upgrade athletic fields.

Read more here.

Greater Metropolitan New York Social Studies Conference 2016

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

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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.

City Schools Finally Get Coordinator on LGBT Issues

By Andy Humm

Originally published in the Gay City News on February 4, 2016

Jared Fox, the Department of Education’s first LGBT liaison. Photo courtesy of the NYC DOE.

Jared Fox, the Department of Education’s first LGBT liaison. Photo courtesy of the NYC DOE.

The New York City Department of Education (DOE) has just appointed Jared Fox, an out gay educator, as LGBT community liaison, a position for which LGBT education activists have been agitating for more than three decades.

“I have a huge sense of urgency,” Fox told Gay City News. “We’re trying to make sure that LGBT people see themselves in the curriculum and that all students see LGBT people in the curriculum.”

In his first month on the job, he is meeting with people at all levels of the school community to figure out how best to make systemic change.

Part of being a liaison, he said, “is listening and part of it is getting things done. I want to get things done by building a long-term vision.” Fox is not just burrowing into the system. He wants to hear from people with ideas and is giving out his e-mail: Jfox16@schools.nyc.gov.

Out gay Councilmember Daniel Dromm of Jackson Heights, chair of the Education Committee and himself a former out grade school teacher, secured the $200,000 funding to pay for the liaison position and related activities in this year’s budget. He told Gay City News that Fox “is charged with coming up with a strategic plan for making the DOE a more inclusive environment for LGBT students, teachers, parents, and families” and that his committee will hold a hearing in June to monitor progress. Dromm said he wants a list of all schools with a gay-straight alliance (GSA) and hopes that the DOE central office at the Tweed Courthouse will finally have an LGBT Pride celebration.

“Invisibility is our biggest enemy,” Dromm said. “We can no longer tolerate discrimination anywhere in the city but especially not at the DOE, and now that I have oversight I will make sure that is the case.”

Lois Herrera, CEO of the Office of Safety and Youth Development, said in a written statement, “Our goal is to promote a positive school climate and culture that supports students in their academic and social growth.” Fox, she said, “will be working with city agencies and community organizations to help schools support, protect, and provide resources to LGBT students, families, and community members.”

Fox said that among the groups on an advisory committee that is meeting monthly on these issues are city agencies — including the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Youth and Community Development, and the Administration for Children’s Services — as well as such community organizations as the New York City Anti-Violence Project, the LGBT Community Center, pride community centers in Brooklyn and Staten Island, and the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT youth.

To finally get a point person on LGBT issues in New York’s public schools, it took Dromm’s leadership, a more sympathetic administration in Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and the advocacy of groups ranging from the Gay Activists Alliance and the Gay Teachers Association in the 1970s, the Hetrick-Martin Institute in the ‘80s, and the Education Coalition on Lesbian and Gay Youth (ECOLaGY) in the ‘90s to the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, from the ‘90s to today. The culture has also progressed enormously on LGBT issues, but the schools — often scared of political fallout from parents objecting to any mention of homosexuality to their children — have been laggards, until recently.

Fox, 28, was himself the founder of the New York chapter of GLSEN. He had the experience of coming out at age 13 in the eighth grade and being bullied in a Catholic school in Cleveland, which led his mother to get him transferred to a public school where he was able to establish a GSA. His degree from Lake Forest College is in community organizing, activism, and politics, and he taught English for three years at a school near New Orleans where he also started a GSA.

Fox has worked for the DOE for the last three years in its Division of Instructional and information Technology, where “we spearheaded a movement to have a tech person in every school. Now over 80 percent have a tech person. We need to have the same success with LGBT students. It’s not like with computers and knowing how to turn them on and off. It’s about kids’ lives.”

Badges available to teachers interested in signaling that they are allies on LGBT issues. Photo courtesy of the NYC DOE.

Badges available to teachers interested in signaling that they are allies on LGBT issues. Photo courtesy of the NYC DOE.

Fox is working with the Office of Research to do a survey “and identify one person in every school to liaise with.” He explained, “It could be a GSA advisor or a teacher or a Respect for All coordinator.” The system’s Respect for All program is an overall anti-bullying program launched eight years ago.

In a system with more than a thousand schools and 1.1 million students, a lone community liaison faces a daunting challenge. To involve more school staff, the DOE is piloting a program that has staff wearing a badge that says “Out for Safe Schools” and has a rainbow and the DOE logo on it.

“It’s a visible representation of being an ally,” Fox said. “Students know if a teacher is wearing that badge that that is a person they can talk to” about LGBT concerns. This atmosphere-changing program has been enthusiastically taken up by large percentages of teachers in other school systems, including Los Angeles. In New York, 5,000 badges have been printed, and officials intend to have them on 8,000 staff by the end of the school year. The Out for Safe Schools campaign “also includes training for teachers and staff to provide them with support and resources for a successful implementation,” the DOE said.

“A lot of this is about a kid being able to know they are not alone,” Fox said. He sees more teachers who are out to their students than ever before, but this badge program allows students to see thousands of allies, LGBT and otherwise, in their schools.

Dromm said he wants to see LGBT-specific posters up in every school next to the Respect for All posters that aim to counter bullying. The Education Committee chair is pushing to have Fox’s position baselined by the administration in the June budget negotiations and expanded by the Council. The current funding includes $38,000 for the Lambda Literary Foundation to bring LGBT authors of color into the schools to dialogue with students.

“I’ve asked them to target schools that haven’t had programs,” Dromm said.

The budget also has $50,000 for Teachers College to do a full-day workshop for 150 instructors on “how to integrate LGBT issues into curricula,” with a special emphasis on “the intersection of race and sexual orientation,” said Dromm.

While AIDS education has been mandated since the 1980s and sex education more recently, Fox is concerned “that for many, it is heteronormative” and that there is “no conversation about safer sex practices” other than condoms and the availability of treatments such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a drug regimen aimed at preventing infection in those who are HIV-negative. To correct that and other shortcomings, Fox is meeting with “curriculum people, library facilities, every division, and every department.”

Thomas Krever, the longtime executive director of the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI) for LGBT youth, met with Fox and said, “I’m ecstatic that this position now exists. It sends a very powerful message to young people and their families and the entire school community that there is now accountability for creating more inclusive schools and insuring that all young people are safe.” Because schools had been egregiously unsafe for LGBT students, HMI started the Harvey Milk High School in 1985 and is still its home, though it has been run by the DOE since 2002.

This position is definitely the right step forward,” Krever said. “In a large system, getting the information from Tweed to the young people is a process and now we have someone to close that loop.”

“For me, it’s the culmination of 25 years of work with ECOLaGY and other groups,” said Dromm. “In the early days, we couldn’t even get a letter from the chancellor” telling staff to be more inclusive and sensitive on the issue.

“This is a beginning step,” Dromm said. “We’re still going to have to fight.”

Read more here.

Progress for LGBT kids in NYC public schools

By the amNY Editorial Board

Originally published in amNY on February 1, 2016

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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.

Overdue DOE Capital Plan To Be Released

By Samar Khurshid

Originally published by the Gotham Gazette on January 20, 2016

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De Blasio at a school visit. (Photo Credit: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor’s Office)

Once Mayor Bill de Blasio unveils his preliminary budget for 2017 on Thursday, Jan. 21, the City Council will begin to hold hearings and formulate its response. In conversations with Gotham Gazette, City Council members Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chair of the finance committee, and Daniel Dromm, education committee chair, said that one of their top priorities during budget season will be addressing school overcrowding through the Department of Education’s capital spending plan.

Capital spending allows for the expansion and rehabilitation of existing schools and the building of new schools.

Each year, the DOE five-year Capital Plan is meant to be included in the mayor’s executive budget, updated in the November financial plan, and then amended through a public review process for inclusion in the next budget. This review process lends the plan transparency as the DOE and School Construction Authority consult with Community Education Councils, Community Boards, City Council borough delegations, and other elected officials. The plan is again updated and typically released in February for approval by the Panel for Education Policy. The PEP then forwards it to the Mayor and City Council.

In the last two years, the process has been significantly off schedule. Last year, the DOE Capital Plan Amendment was delayed till May 2015 to align it with the city’s 10-year capital plan. The amendment proposed a $13.5 billion five-year DOE Capital Plan for 2015-2019, up from $12 billion the previous year. As a result of the delay, there was no update in November.

The amendment will now be introduced along with the preliminary budget on Thursday, OMB spokesperson Amy Spitalnick confirmed.

“It’s disappointing that this is the second year that (the capital plan) hasn’t come out on time,” said Council Member Dromm. “I’m hoping that it will be out shortly. We need time to look at it and examine it.”

The capital plan is especially important to Dromm, Ferreras-Copeland, and others who represent districts with some of the most overcrowded schools in the city. Schools in Queens, where both Dromm and Ferreras-Copeland reside, are the most overcrowded of any borough.

“It’s overdue, it’s late,” Ferreras-Copeland said of the plan. When the Council does get it, she said she will work closely with Dromm to appeal for an additional $1 billion to address the issue of overcrowding.

The DOE capital plan estimates that adding around 38,000 seats would help alleviate the problem, but critics say that number is too low. A June 2014 report by Class Size Matters, a nonprofit that advocates for smaller class sizes, estimated the shortage of seats at around 100,000 (Dromm believes it’s more likely between 50,000 and 75,000).

“If you look at all the development going on in the city, particularly the mayor’s plan to add 200,000 affordable housing units, then there’s a dire need for additional seats,” Dromm said. He wants most of the new money in the capital plan put towards building new schools rather than refurbishing existing ones. “We need physical seats. We need brick-and-mortar buildings to be built,” he said.

Class Size Matters’ executive director, Leonie Haimson, doubts that the update to the capital plan will be good enough, even if it is better. She called for doubling the number of seats from the last plan and investing $125 million each year from the city coffers, which would be matched by state funds. She was also critical of the DOE’s slow movement on the plan, which is now already in its second year and unapproved.

“We should have more time, not less time to analyze the plan considering the failures of the DOE in the past,” she said. “There needs to be more public process and more genuine interest on the part of the DOE to listen to people.”

Besides a greater investment in the capital plan, Class Size Matters also advocates for an independent commission to improve planning and efficiency in siting new schools.

“The mayor’s made a big push towards increasing pre-K and housing but paid very little attention to where those kids are going to go to school,” Haimson said. “I don’t think you can create good neighborhoods without schools. We’re the richest city in the richest country in the world and we have severe school overcrowding and waiting lists for kindergarten.”

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

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.

SUCCESS ACADEMY PARENT’S TAPES REVEAL ATTEMPT TO PUSH OUT SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENT

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.

$4 Billion Isn’t Enough to Fix Overcrowded Schools, De Blasio Says

Originally published by DNAinfo.
By Katie Honan | November 13, 2015 1:39pm

JACKSON HEIGHTS — The city is spending $4 billion to alleviate persistent overcrowding, but it’s still not enough, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a town hall meeting focused on education Thursday.

The mayor spoke at a two-hour meeting before parents, teachers and students tackling a range of questions from high-stakes testing to bringing Halal food into schools at PS 69 on 37th Avenue, a school in one of the most overcrowded districts in the city.

“This is one of the epicenters of overcrowding and we have to do a lot to fix it,” the mayor acknowledged after a question on building more high schools.

The mayor was joined by Chancellor Carmen Farina and Councilman Danny Dromm,who hosted the event and is also the chair of the City Council’s education committee. This was de Blasio’s second public town hall since he took office.

The topic was one of many discussed at an education town hall in Jackson Heights.

The topic was one of many discussed at an education town hall in Jackson Heights. Photo: DNAinfo/Katie Honan

The city is investing $4 billion over the next five years to create more seats, including 1,500 for District 30 and 3,400 for District 24, the mayor said.

Later, though, he admitted that the money still won’t do much to fix the problem.

“This is not an easy subject,” he said. “Four billion and it’s not enough. I don’t have more, there may be a day when I can find more, but right now I don’t have more than $4 billion to put into that.”

District 30 Community Education Council president and parent Jeff Guyton asked if the mayor could make it easier for developers to build schools inside new residential buildings, like in Long Island City.

“As we build a new city along the East River we’re going to need schools,” he said.

While he couldn’t promise new schools, the mayor said he’s trying to address what happens in the classroom “in a different way to achieve the same effect.”

When parents say they want a smaller class size, they’re asking for more attention for their children and a safer environment, he said.

“We have clearly a physical space challenge,” he said. “Another solution is do more with the space we have and give more support.”

Amanda Bender, a science teacher at a school in Corona and a parent with kids at schools in Jackson Heights, asked about high-stakes testing. The focus on it cuts into the arts and physical education, she said.

“My kindergartner has no free play because the administration says there’s no time for that,” she said.

De Blasio and Farina said changes are being made, although the chancellor defended the kindergarten curriculum.

“Kindergarten is play,” she said. “Play is work.”

De Blasio told the packed auditorium — and a spillover classroom nearby — that he appreciated “the passion” of the audience and stayed late until every question was answered.

“You’re here because you want to learn more you want to ask tough questions,” he said.

Read more here.

De Blasio Holds Education Town Hall In Queens

Originally published in the Gotham Gazette.

On Thursday evening, Mayor Bill de Blasio held his second traditional town hall, this time taking questions at a school in Jackson Heights, Queens. De Blasio was hosted by City Council Member Danny Dromm, a de Blasio ally whom the mayor has worked with on education policy, the municipal ID legislation, and more. Dromm is the chair of the Council’s education committee and warmly introduced both de Blasio and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Dromm, de Blasio, and Fariña highlighted policies of the administration, including universal pre-kindergarten, community schools, and expansion of computer science courses. They also lauded a new approach to struggling schools and to respecting teachers.

Audience members queried de Blasio and company on school overcrowding, a major issues in Queens, as well as charter schools, parent engagement, and school safety policies – often asking questions through a critical frame. De Blasio handled the questions well, showing strong command of policy and deferring to Fariña as needed.

When pushed at one point on charter schools, de Blasio said: “We’ll work with anyone. Our job is to lift up every school. Parents in some cases are looking for a different option because they don’t have faith in their neighborhood school, that is not an acceptable state of affairs. That is why we plan to entirely change this school system.”

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