Charter Schools Discipline and Suspensions Education Industry Education Reform Environment Joy New Jersey Newark Special Education

Newark: Charter School Network Accused of Disproportionate Suspensions of Students with Disabilities

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No excuses!

Newark’s largest charter-school network suspends students with disabilities at a disproportionately high rate, violating their rights, according to a new complaint filed with the state.

The complaint alleges that North Star Academy gave suspensions to 29 percent of students with disabilities during the 2016-17 school year. The network disputes the complaint’s allegations and says the actual figure was 22 percent.

North Star removed students with disabilities from their classrooms for disciplinary reasons, including suspensions and expulsions, 269 times that school year, according to the complaint filed by an attorney at the Education & Health Law Clinic at Rutgers Law School in Newark. The complaint is based on state data and reports by parents who contacted the clinic.

Those numbers stand in sharp contrast to ones at Newark Public Schools, where students with disabilities were sent out for disciplinary reasons just 87 times that school year, according to state data. Overall, just 1.3 percent of special-education students and 1.1 percent of all students were suspended in 2016-17, according to the attorney’s analysis of state data. Excluding North Star, the city’s charter schools together suspended about 9 percent of students with disabilities, the analysis found…

North Star is part of the Uncommon Schools network — one of several large charter-school organizations whose reliance on strict discipline and demanding academics is sometimes called “no excuses.” Some of the schools have softened their discipline policies in recent years, but others have held firm, insisting that their no-nonsense approach to misbehavior creates a safe, orderly environment where students can focus on academics.

According to the complaint, North Star continues to take an exacting approach to managing behavior. Each week, students receive behavior points in the form of “paychecks.” They can lose points for even minor infractions, such as not paying attention in class or violating the school-uniform code. If their points dip below a certain level, they can be sent to detention or suspended, the complaint says.

The complaint alleges that some students with disabilities struggle to follow the rules, and wind up being punished at a higher rate than non-disabled students. Federal data from the 2014-15 school year appear to support that claim. In that year, students with disabilities made up 7.2 percent of North Star’s enrollment, yet they received 16.5 percent of in-school suspensions and 12.9 percent of out-of-school suspensions, according to data compiled by the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights

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