The PTA of the Hastings-on-Hudson, Néw York, school district sent the following open letter to Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy charter schools. They shared it with me and asked me to post it.
Success Academy Charter Schools,
Chief Executive Officer
Dear Ms. Moskowitz:
We write in response to your recent comment to WNYC, explaining why Success Academy schools don’t accept new students after fourth grade: “It’s not really fair for the student in seventh grade or a high school student to have to be educated with a child who’s reading at a second or third grade level.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/04/10/new-york-city-charters-leave-thousands-of-seats-unfilled-despite-exploding-demand-study-finds/.
As advocates for children, we are deeply troubled by your and Success Academy’s view. Many seventh graders who read at a second or third grade level are children with learning differences. These children already face huge obstacles and prejudices, even as research clearly supports that including these children in general education settings benefits all.
Inclusive classrooms, which comprise special education students and their general education peers, are academically, socially and emotionally beneficial to both groups. In fact, the advantages of such classrooms are so powerful and the outcomes often so successful that federal law requires that these children be placed with their non-disabled peers whenever possible (i.e., in the “least restrictive environment”). At a recent PTA meeting here in Hastings-on-Hudson, parents of general education students specifically asked for their children to be placed in inclusion classes, with their special education peers, once they learned more about the benefits to all that those classrooms produce, including more attention to differentiated learning, as well as additional teaching staff.
In addition, dismissing a child who is reading below-grade level puts too much emphasis on reading and ignores the myriad of other measures of achievement. A child who reads below grade level may excel in math or biology or be an exceptional artist, athlete, or musician.
We live in a diverse world, and it is our job and our duty to create environments that engender respect, support, and, possibly most important, empathy. The direction you advocate
— separating and rewarding just the highest achievers in selected subjects — does a disservice to all.
So while you state that including struggling readers is “not really fair” to your current Success Academy scholars, what saddens us – and feels truly unfair – is this layer of unnecessary and painful exclusion and hardship, in the name of protecting your high-achieving scholars, that you find appropriate and necessary.
We are happy to meet with you and explain these issues more deeply, if that would be helpful. And in any event, we ask that you issue an apology, and also that your schools make a concerted effort to include children with special needs or learning differences. It’s not only best practice, ethical, and fair, but it is the law.
Very truly yours,
Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA Executive Board, Lisa Eggert Litvin and Jacqueline Weitzman, Co Presidents
Hastings-on-Hudson SEPTA (Special Education PTA) Executive Board, Nina Segal and Jennifer Cunningham, Co Presidents
(Note that we are sending this to the general information email for Success Academies, because after extensive online searches, as well as numerous phone calls to individual Success Academy Schools and to the State’s offices governing charters, we have been unable to obtain an accurate email address for you. We left a message at Success Academy’s business office (as it was called by a receptionist at one of the academies) explaining the gist of the letter and asking for your email. If we receive a response, we will forward to that address.)