Coalition Demands State Provide Data on Children with Multiple Suspensions from Charter Schools

Parents of children who have endured multiple suspensions for minor offenses at charter schools today called on the state’s top education officials to provide data on charter school suspensions. They were joined by former charter school teachers and administrators in demanding a full accounting of what happens to students who are suspended time and time again.

“We know from personal experience that children as young as five years old are suspended from charter schools over and over again for minor non-violent offenses,” they say in the letter. “Massachusetts residents have no idea what happens to them afterward.”

The letter was delivered this morning to Secretary of Education Jim Peyser and Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchel Chester.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has already documented “inappropriate or excessive use of long-term suspensions and expulsions and disproportional rates of discipline of minority and disabled students” at a number of Massachusetts charter schools.1

“My five year old kindergartener with a disability was suspended six times before Christmas break, banned from the holiday show and other classroom activities, and put into a small "time out" room almost every day,” said Amanda Ceide, a parent whose son attended Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden. “We had no choice but to move him to a public school, as he was emotionally traumatized by the multiple exclusions from his peers and instruction time. He was made to feel like the classroom and school was not for him because he was a bad kid.”

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has already documented “inappropriate or excessive use of long-term suspensions and expulsions and disproportional rates of discipline of minority and disabled students” at a number of Massachusetts

In order to supplement state data, the Save Our Public Schools campaign has set up a hotline, 617-943-4609, for parents and students to call to report their own experiences of multiple suspensions at charter schools.

“In my daughter’s school, teachers consistently singled out certain first grade students, who were crammed in a classroom with limited recess time. In a minute they could shift a child from the highest praise to the lowest, for everyone to see,” said Linda Barros, a parent whose daughter attended a Boston charter school. “I felt the school was more interested in numbers than the children's social and emotional balance. My daughter she is now thriving at a public school, where she was received with open arms and treated fairly.”

The average suspension rate for all schools statewide is 2.9%, but the rate at many charter schools is much higher. The Roxbury Preparatory Charter School suspended 40 percent of its students last year, including 57.8 percent of students with disabilities and 43.5 percent of black students.2 The school was co-founded by U.S. Secretary of Education John King, who recently called on charter schools to “reduce their reliance on suspensions and expulsions.” 3

“In addition to multiple suspensions of students, parents of targeted students are harassed as well. As a parent, I dreaded the daily 3:30 p.m. call from teachers telling me how my child was failing. I was told that maybe Roxbury Prep wasn't the ‘right fit’ for my daughter,” said Marlena Rose, a parent whose daughter attended Roxbury Preparatory Charter School. “My story is not at all unique. Parents and students are both harassed to conform or leave. Constant calls, suspensions, and threats of holding the student back become overwhelming to parents who feel they have no choice but to remove their child. They are being made to feel that they are the ones who are failing, without the charter school owning any responsibility. These experiences are often paralyzing for many parents.”

In New Bedford, City on a Hill charter school suspended 35.4 of its students, including 50 percent of students with disabilities and 52.9 percent of black students. Veritas Preparatory Charter School, in Springfield, suspended 17.7 percent of its students, including 37.1 percent of students with disabilities.2 UP Academy Boston suspended 20.4 percent of its students last year, and UP Academy Holland suspended 68 kindergarteners in the previous year.2,4

“My son threw a soda can out the window of his school bus because another student threatened to hit him with it, and he was suspended for three days,” said Rita Ben-Cherqui, a parent whose son attends Up Academy Boston. “Get the charter schools straightened out before they bully other families.”

Parents and educators have long suspected that charters use suspensions as a tool to force students out in order to keep test scores high. Given that there is no local oversight of charters, the parents are asking for full transparency and a comprehensive analysis of additional data that DESE already possesses, but has never released.

“There is zero educational benefit to using excessive suspensions in any school,” said Ed Cook, a former public school principal and Head of School at the Uphams Corner Charter School. “In my schools, we welcomed children with disabilities, from economically disadvantaged families, and those who were English Language Learners, and we built the school around their needs. If any school is suspending as many as one in three students, they are clearly not serving the mission that they have been entrusted with. From the data and reports surfacing about charter schools, it is only responsible to ask for additional data to uncover what impact excessive suspensions may be having on our students.”
 
Question 2 on the November ballot would triple the number of charter schools in Massachusetts in just 10 years, costing local public school districts more than $1 billion a year. The concerned parents and educators expect state education officials to address what happens to charter school students who are suspended multiple times for non-violent offences.

Do they:
  1. Stay at charter schools despite multiple suspensions?
  2. Return to local public school districts?
  3. Drop out of school altogether?

“My son was suspended 16 times at the age of 5. Who suspends a 5-year old?” asked Malikka Williams, a parent whose son attended Up Academy Holland in Boston. “These charters are pushing out black and Latino boys.”

In March, after new reports about UP Academy Holland suspending 68 kindergarteners in the previous year, Commissioner Chester said “there’s no rationale for suspending young people at that kind of rate, that’s just unacceptable.”5

This post was prepared by the Save Our Public Schools coalition, which includes the MTA. The coalition is a grassroots organization of Massachusetts families, parents, educators and students.

1. http://www.bostonherald.com/news/local_coverage/2016/06/five_schools_cited_for_discipline_bias
2. http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/state_report/ssdr.aspx
3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/06/28/education-secretary-calls-on-charters-to-rethink-discipline-reduce-suspensions/?tid=sm_tw
4. http://learninglab.legacy.wbur.org/2016/02/03/mass-had-hundreds-of-suspensions-last-year-in-kindergarten-and-pre-k/

5. http://learninglab.legacy.wbur.org/2016/03/09/what-discipline-looks-like-at-a-boston-school-with-325-suspensions/

This post was prepared by the Save Our Public Schools coalition, which includes the MTA. The coalition is a grassroots organization of Massachusetts families, parents, educators and students. Visit the MTA's toolkit on charter schools for more information.