There are many forces set to destroy public education that we must fight, but fighting this “evil” is near and dear to my heart.
As usual, the more I read, the more angry I got. First came a link claiming the city is dawdling in their charter school plans here. So she planned a City Hall press conference which she canceled after New York City School Chancellor Carmen Farina said she anticipates on accommodating up to 8 out 14 of Moskowitz's schools, though no locations were mentioned. Farina further stated that if any of her schools could not be co-located within existing public schools, the city could seek funding for her to receive private space in the article found here. Thank you Governor Andrew Cuomo! Then a little birdie on Twitter shared this gem with me. It is of Success Academy's 990 Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax for the period of 07/01/2012-06/30/2013. During this time period, Success Academy's annual revenue more than doubled. Yet Moskowitz can't afford to pay rent??? She made this statement over and over and we have not forgotten.
The next day, NY Daily News Reporter Ben Chapman, who must have heard from this birdie too, put out this article. Not only does he state what I just did, he also reported that Moskowitz's salary jumped, too. Former CNN correspondent and journalist, Campbell Brown, who is also a thorn in NY public education's side, put in her two cents by saying, “she is worth every penny.” What's that saying.... “birds of a feather flock together,” it is all so true.
Then a report on Mayor de Blasio written by Juan Gonzalez from the NY Daily News came out, and it is my opinion that de Blasio made some bold statements that he needs to uphold. He should not cave in to Moskowitz or Cuomo. This article can be found here. On charter schools, “We would never take our kids out of (public) school for a political purpose, and that’s what it was,” de Blasio said. “I think anyone who helped organize those protests [against Success Academy’s not being given free space] took advantage of those kids and used them as political pawns.” The city’s cooperation “comes with some rules,” he said. “We expect (charter schools) to represent the same population as in the district they are housed, meaning just as many English-language learners, just as many special ed kids, (and) not move out kids who don’t test as well.” Finally on this issue, “there was an election,” de Blasio added. “I said what I believed in. We’re (implementing) these policies. They can protest like anyone else, but we’re following through on a vision that I put forward to the people of this city.” I know many have a problem with our mayor for so many things. I personally do not agree with everything he says or does. However, in general, I have found that it is impossible to please everyone, but we either have to make do or fight back. I choose to fight back.
So now we get to why this issue is near and dear to me, I will start by saying that I know what it is like to be in co-location with Moskowitz. Her chain of Success Academy schools began in my building eight years ago. She has gutted my District 75 (special education) school over and over. During these eight years, we lost our art room, the music room, the technology room, the science room, a library, and classrooms, so she could expand and have a block room, a karate room, and a dance room.
Moskowitz’s school has become the “haves” while my school along with another general education school in my building became the “have nots.”
Last year her plan, pushed through by then Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his stooges, would have essentially kicked out my school. If we had lost this space, federal, state, and local laws that were put in place to PROTECT these most vulnerable children would have been violated. What about Section 504 that protects children with disabilities? Why was that was so blatantly ignored?
We fought back in every way we could, with the help of several organizations, local leaders, and elected officials. Plus, de Blasio said even before he was our mayor, and many times since, that he would not displace any special needs children.
Besides the obvious, there is more to why I am so angry. After reading so many reports praising the Success Academy charter schools, I think it is time for the truth to come out. Her schools have boasted their high testing scores, but let's scale it back. They have extremely low numbers of special needs students and ELL (English Language Learner) students. They have the bare minimum so it doesn't look like they are excluding those populations. When you take a look closer, those special needs students that are enrolled have speech and/or occupational/physical therapy issues. These areas are written into their Individual Education Plans or IEP's, (which are legal documents,) as needing specialty services only, which they can provide. However, students with true learning disabilities and psychiatric issues are required to have a Special Education Teacher as per their IEP's. Those students cannot be found in their schools because Success Academy does not have Special Education Teachers. If they were to take in those children without a Special Education Teacher, they would be out of compliance. Instead, their local public schools or a specialized District 75 school will take them in. These real public schools take in ALL children no matter what their abilities or disabilities are. When you don't have those populations in your schools, of course your scores will be much higher than those of local schools.
De Blasio and Farina have said many times they they would not permit her school to displace special needs students but their words fell on deaf ears. The mass media left out that important tidbit almost always. A rally was organized for my school and with the other general education school in my building in order to spread awareness and to try and save it. This rally featured teachers, students, parents, supporters from another local school, community leaders, and elected officials. A lot of media was present too. Coincidentally, Moskowitz planned her press conference for her lawsuits against the city that same day. Guess what got coverage??? This was very suspicious to many.
There was also the day she closed her schools back in March to protest and rally in Albany. Students, families, and staffed were forced into this. I have read many anonymous reports back then that all those involved were manipulated with fear as reported in this article. Of course there were many who supported this. They either did not know what they were fighting for or they did not care that over 100 vulnerable students were to be affected by her expansion. Well, that rally/protest was deemed successful. Gov Cuomo made an appearance and spoke to the crowds. It was later revealed that Cuomo was instrumental in the planning of this event and approximately $800,000 was donated to him by Moskowitz and her supporters. Subsequent to this march, Cuomo also changed the law that gave charters more rights than public schools. Meaning if they want space, they can have it. If it was truly impossible to attain, space must be found elsewhere and their rent, expenses, and renovations will be paid for by the city. This did not go over well with our city public schools and the general public backed Cuomo, because public schools and its teachers became the numero uno enemy to the current state of education.
After that march, TV ads like this one, popped up with the faces of 194 students. In some of those ads, those students were said to be cruelly kicked out by de Blasio. These students and some of their parents begged not to be thrown away. Now as I stated earlier, those students were never kicked out. Moskowitz wanted those students in the space of my special needs school. That was her choice. She knew there was no free space and she always knew what she was doing. She deceived everybody and she didn't care. The general public had no idea what the truth really was and de Blasio and Farina were bashed for it over and over again. Families for Excellent Schools were behind those manipulated ads and spent over $6 million to continually air them. (For more information on them, please read this article.) This forced my special needs school to fight back. We did a press conference in April at Tweed Courthouse, which included myself, parents, community leaders, and elected officials. Then two days later a big Save Our Public Schools protest and march was held in front of the New York Public Library and concluded with a march to Cuomo's midtown office. Those community leaders were there as well including the Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Senator Brad Holyman and Councilman Daniel Dromm. I gave a speech at both events to plead for the safety of my school.
During this time, there was also her fundraising gala at Cipriani's, hosted by Jeb Bush and attended by many known wealthy supporters including those in the media. They raised millions upon millions of dollars while bashing de Blasio for trying to attack Moskowitz personally by denying her space.
Much noise was continually made and de Blasio did offer Moskowitz space elsewhere. She lied to the media at first that nothing was being done and then all of a sudden she was gracious. She gave a statement that thanked all those involved with finding her new space but she still had to include a dig that her original plans for space would've been ideal. Yes, kicking out special needs students that she does NOT want to educate would have been the right thing to do. Even months later, she still had no qualms about her actions. She still claims she was the victim in this article. Moskowitz was quoted as saying, “they are trying to kill us.”
Now, the following has to do with the treatment of her students. It is no secret that her students have been emotionally abused and are degraded regularly by ridicule. I am not saying all of her teachers are like that, however teachers are forced to follow Success Academy protocol which is absolute obedience. Teachers live in fear as do their students. The website called Glassdoor contains reviews that rated Success Academy by it's former and current teachers. As there are glowing reviews of course, probably planted, you also have plenty calling their experience “inhumane.” Children should love coming to school, not be in fear. They are not allowed to be children. Silence is expected most of the day and they walk the hallways with hands in their pockets while teachers snap fingers at them like they were animals. This breaks my heart, as it does so many others. Why should a child be mocked for crying because something happened outside of school, or ridiculed for taking a minute too long in the bathroom? Those are just two examples. It is very militaristic and cruel.
As for testing, children have test prep rammed down their throats for hours on end. Other grade level materials are left in the wind, because they must score highly. Real learning can't be going on when all they are learning is how to pass tests. After their scores were released, many requests to them about their testing procedures have been all ignored. Who monitors the teachers when testing is going on and who grades them? Local public schools have procedures during this time. Although charters claim to be public schools too, same rules do not reply. They have refused to be audited in the past, despite what they say, they do cherry-pick their students, they have "counseled out" children, I can pretty much guarantee there is misappropriation of funds for students because when certain students “leave” there is no backfill, possibly cheating, etc.
It is of my opinion that the general public MUST be aware of the whole truth. I think its pretty interesting that public schools and teachers are continually bashed as to how horrible they all are and charter school numbers are increasing. This is no coincidence. This has also sparked two lawsuits (one by Campbell Brown mentioned earlier,) attacking teachers and their unions. Education reform is growing and its problematic because it seems as though their goal is to break apart unions and to privatize schools. This epidemic is growing nationwide.
I will end with this, the original purpose of charter schools were to enrich the schools they co-locate with. This has NEVER happened. When asked to help out and to share their methodologies they flatly refused. While my school and the other schools in our building make do with what we have, we know that while we struggle, they have fancy bathrooms and all that extra enrichment space that our students are denied. Charter school advocates have proven to us over and over again, that what they have is never enough. They have taught their students that if you bully a school long enough, you can get your way.
By the grace of God, we are protected from Moskowitz now that we are a Community Learning School. But it doesn't mean she won't try again. What she did to us she has done and will do to other schools. That is why we have been and will continue to fight back. We need to let our voices be heard. It is not acceptable for our schools to be invaded by an entity that does not educate “all” as they claim, that steals our students' resources, and misinforms the media and the general public. If space is not found within a school, we as taxpayers should NOT have to fund their rent and certainly NOT their renovations. #EnoughIsEnough! #AllKidsNeed! These are OUR public schools, OUR students and this lunacy needs to stop now!