Tuesday, February 20, 2007

SOS Thread

I have been a teacher at the Second Opportunity School (SOS) for the past two and a half years. SOS educates students who have been given one-year superintendent’s suspensions for allegedly violating the New York City School’s discipline code. There are four sites located across the city. The DOOR (located in Manhattan), WILDCAT(located in the Bronxs), and Sankofa Academy(located in Brooklyn). My current site location is Queens Outreach located on Myrtle Ave in Richmond Hill,Queens. Queens Outreach is a Community Based Organization (CBO) that services substance abuse clients. This CBO by no means is qualified to service the SUSPENSION student's of the Second Opportunity School. The director, Mr. Patterson, was the only CBO staff member associated with SOS that has a graduate degree in a service provision area (MSW), yet he provides no direct service to the students. The CBO has recently hired a PART-TIME (MSW) to attempt to silence the cry for a QUAILFIED counselor. The assistant director has some sort of criminal justice undergraduate degree, but he also has a role that provides no direct student services. The person that has the title of “Clinical Supervisor” has a high school diploma and is about to complete an associates degree in liberal arts. This individual runs some "COUNSELING" groups, but provides limited individual counseling services to students. The CBO had four direct service counselors WITHOUT degrees in any area what so ever. These individuals try their best to service the SOS students, but lack of appropriate training and time renders them ineffective to say the least. These four individuals work a schedule of 19 hours a week, that's less than 4 hours a day. The SOS school day has 7 hours. The CBO refuses to pay benefits so instead of hiring one or two qualified counselors they choose to hire several under qualified people, which leads to their excessively high turn over rate. Currently, the CBO is down to three counselors with two of the current counselors planning for a vigourous exit.
This is a rip off; Queens Outreach is robbing the Department of Education blind! This CBO has a contract which pays them 400,000 dollars and they provide minimal to no services. They do not support student centered trips, yet they wrote a grant and was given 20,000 dollars from the Derek Jeter foundation just for that purpose! (This was reported in the Ridgewood Times newspaper) These people are crooks. I personally planned and chaperone four different college tours ((2) Harvard, University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University) and I had to beg and pled to get the first charter bus to Harvard. Queens Outreach flat out REFUSED to finance any of the others College Tours due to the fact that the Executive Financial Director (Tony Croce) has the attitude that “none of these kids can make it to THOSE schools”. This is insanity! These people are poverty pimps benefiting off of the backs of students who have made poor choices in their short school lives. They are making a profit from drug testing students and placing them in weak treatment programs in order to charge their parent’s insurance company’s for services that are menial to say the least!
Since there are no real checks and balances, the administration of Queens Outreach is getting away with this robbery. There has yet to be a documented record of what grants the agency is applying for in the name of the SOS students or how much money has been received for grants that have been accepted. If The Department of Education insists on utilizing the services of CBO’s there has a clear statement of what services they offer our children as well as appropriate checks and balances on what financial benefits are being acquired in the name of the student’s being serviced.
The qualifications of the CBO staff who service our students should be just as comprehensive as the qualification for Department of Education staff (we MUST have degree’s!). There should be an audit and investigation on the financial practices and student service delivery plan of the Queens Outreach Organization.
In addition to the aforementioned, Queens Outreach, in a moment of what had to be nothing but stupidity, decided to replace old dirty carpet on Friday January 19th during a regular school day. The dust from the carpet and fumes from the glue made several individual, including myself sick. This further demonstrates the insensitive and immoral actions taken by this CBO toward the students and staff of the Second Opportunity School. This incident is just one of many on going inappropriate daily occurrences at the Queens Outreach SOS site.
Student’s are in constant contact with individuals who should not be in the building during the school day. Queens Outreach has been paid for the basement of their building, yet they still have DRUG COUNSELORS AND THEIR CLIENTS in constant contact with the students of SOS in the rented basement area. These clients in no way should be in contact with the MIDDLE SCHOOL POPULATION of SOS. Some have been recently released from prison some have other VERY SERIOUS issues that our students have no business being exposed too! In addition to general inappropriate high risk exposure, students, staff and all others that enter the basement share one male bathroom and one female bathroom. There have been instances were drug test were being given to CBO clients while SOS student are in class. Many of these clients are remanded to the program by the court system as a condition of there parole or probation. This is totally inappropriate and violates Chancellor’s Regulation A-412 that guarantees student’s safety while in school. This site is a disaster waiting to happen and I hope that something is done about this before it gets to the point of a legal litigation by a well informed parent.
I would like to see a task force created to monitor the Community Based Organizations and the contracts they negotiate with the Department of Education as well as their daily building activities. As it stands now, the Department Of Education paying almost a half a million dollars to an organization that does not take the safety and wellness of our students seriously. So before this so called "Reorganazation" takes place and schools begin to outsource services they should take into consideration that not all Community Based Organizations (For Profits and/or Non-for-profits) are not built to take care of our kids even though they may be quick to take their money!
Amira El, Frustrated Special Education Teacher
Amira El, M.S.Ed
Instructional Support Provider
Second Opportunity School @ Queens Outreach
New York City Dept. of Education

"Whatever you fear most has no power -- it is your fear that has the power."

--Oprah Winfrey,
Media mogul and philanthropist

“You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”
Mahatma Gandhi

Amira El’s comments are excellent and should be heeded. However, believe or not, she underplays the true insidious nature of the DoE’s use of CBO’s.

The bottom line is the bottom line.

I also teach at SOS but in the Bronx. Amira El’s Queens site services Junior High School students while the sites I have taught in, Brooklyn, Manhattan and now the Bronx, all service High School suspended students.

Many of our students have or should have IEP’s. They have been suspended from most of the high schools in the city for Level 5 offenses which usually involve weapons use and/or possession or physical fights against staff or safety agents. Many have pending court cases or are under probation supervision. They have been determined to be too dangerous to educate in high school and have been banished to the Second Opportunity School to receive instruction.

In order to deal with these special students the DoE decided to enlist the help of CBO’s to provide a physical site and supportive counseling and programming. In theory the CBO’s involvement in the school was designed to be supplementary. In practice it proves to replace vital DoE services.

Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club

The first site I taught in, the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club serviced 30, 60, and 90 day suspended students in a community center in Castle Hill. The contract for services included counseling and physical education instruction for a transitory population. The school site was totally inappropriate for instruction. There were two gyms, a pool and a area filled with pool tables and table tennis all within an area where the “classrooms” were located. The “classrooms” were used by the CBO for its after school program. We were not permitted to put anything on the walls. Our chalkboards, books, supplies and instructional materials, were required to be moved in and out of the room on a daily basis. More importantly mandated IEP services were either not provided or provided by well meaning but totally unqualified individuals. No one had the requisite license to provide counseling services or physical education as most were not even college graduates. At one point after a “group counseling” session got out of hand a riot ensued with 12 students being placed under arrest.

Attendance, due to the nature of the population and the fear of some to attend the school, was usually below 50%.

This past September Kips Bay and the DoE staff were notified a couple of days before classes were to begin that the suspension schools had been totally reorganized. The sites were now to service 1 year suspended students. Kips Bay, seeing how poorly the school was administered, backed out of the contract and evicted us. As a result I was assigned to Brooklyn at the Belmont Academy.

Belmont Academy

Belmont Academy, also transformed into a 1 year suspension site from a 30, 60, 90 day suspension site, looked more like a school, but like Kips Bay did not have qualified personnel providing both mandated and needed services. The CBO, Phoenix House, has an extensive track record in drug rehabilitation, but, upon information and belief, only one certified social worker, the director who provided little direct services, was involved in counseling or fulfilling IEP mandates. The school provides no physical education (no gym or certified gym teacher on the premises) or library. The students are provided only boxed lunches each day.

Attendance, due to the nature of the population and the fear of some to attend the school, was usually below 50%.

SCAN LaGuardia

Just before Thanksgiving I was transferred to the East Harlem site, SCAN LaGuardia. At the bottom of a housing project for the elderly this site is totally inappropriate for a school. I was assigned to teach social studies in the same room as English was being taught separated only by a moveable chalkboard. Students constantly moved from class to class making instruction almost impossible. Fights were common and like Belmont and Kips Bay no properly credentialed service providers were in attendance. The director was certified but like Belmont did not provide direct services.

The building was filthy containing rodent and roach excrement. Attendance, due to the nature of the population and the fear of some to attend the school, was usually below 50%.

At the end of January I was transferred to Hunts Point in the Bronx were a new site was prepared.

Wildcat Services

Wildcat, who had been the CBO for the junior high school took over the high school students. The site has classrooms and shares a gym with the junior high but has no gym teacher. There is no library and like the other sites there are no certified social workers or other professionals providing mandated and other needed services. Wildcat has plans to have the students involved in service projects and they appear to be sincere. It is too early to tell if this will have an impact on our at risk adolescents.

Dealing with at-risk youth is a complicated and difficult task. By hiring very young, inexperienced and unqualified support personnel the DoE has done a disservice to this population. Unless their needs are dealt with it is clear our students will drop out or become incarcerated. This is not a population to save a few dollars on.

There are many other problems with the use of CBO’s in our schools. The DoE attempts to circumvent federal, state and union requirements by employing these agencies. They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on these CBO’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually cost more than providing DoE facilities and personnel. Perhaps someone can do the math.


Jeff Kaufman (JeffKaufman@earthlink.net)

Thanks Jeff -- w/ details about similar SOS sites in Manhattan, Bronx and Brooklyn.
the SOS sites seem to be an area ripe for investigation from the City Comptroller, Public Advocate, or City Council -- one of the many elected officials who are supposed to look into these scandalous situations. The lack of adequate counseling services at regular schools and even worse, at the SOS sites makes it clear that these are dumping grounds -- w/ no real hope of success for these students.
I asked Amira about the special ed question, (see her remarks below) because I have a friend who's middle school son w/ an IEP who has received a superintendent's suspension w/ no prior counseling offered, which is illegal according to the current regulations.
This mom just spent defending her son's rights at a six day hearing -- and she was the only one present at the defense, as opposed to DOE who had multiple attorneys, witnesses, etc. for the prosecution.
At his school, which is in the empowerment zone, he was repeatedly ejected for minor infractions and the last time they simply dumped him in the local police precinct office.
See below -- info I recently received which shows a near doubling in the no. of superintendent suspensions over the last few years:

Clearly, this is a problem that will continue to worsen under the new so-called accountability proposal, unless schools have to report and be judged on actual discharges, suspensions, transfers, and dropouts -- instead of the bogus statistics that they are currently using.
With the increased pressure to show improving test scores, principals will continue to try to get rid of low-achieving and troubled students any way they can.
See additional comments from Amira below.
Leonie Haimson
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011
To subscribe to our newsletter, send an email to classsizematters-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

From: msel2001@aol.com [mailto:msel2001@aol.com]
Sent: Monday, February 19, 2007 12:21 PM
To: leonie@worldnet.att.net

We service a middle school population with ages ranging from 12 to 16 years old. We provide core subjects and a computer period which may be a thing of the past soon. The students have one day in which they go to the YMCA for a hour and a half gym session.Art, Music or any other elective is non exsistent in this program.
At this time we have approx.4 students with IEP's and that's because I empower the parents to fight the suspension due to inappropriate processing. The CSE's do not follow the Reg's when it comes to suspending students with IEP's. The discipline code clearly states that intervention services have to be implemented and documented before suspending a student with an IEP. This never happens!
The CSE is supposed to met BEFORE an IEP student is removed from their school setting and placed in an alternative setting. This is not respected. Parents are encouraged to plead "no contest" to charges that hold no weight when an IEP comes into play. NO SERVICES=NO SUSPENSION. Sending schools act as if they have no idea of IDEA protections and the CSE's are getting away with acdademic murder when it comes to setting up meetings that address creating suspension specific IEP's. They just don't do it!
This is a serious crisis. In addition to the inappropriate space and service implementation of the CBO's that collaborate with the DOE there is a program size issue. The student admissions CAP is at 60 students per site. This is maddness. If at any time Queens Outreach ever has 60 student bodies in addition to teaching staff and CBO staff(some of which do not service DOE students) there would be a serious fire hazzard. The spacing is totally inappropriate and the issue has been brought to all the powers that be, but since there hasn't been a lost of life, I guess it's not an area of urgency.
I hope this information helps to really make some changes in this current atmophere of so called "reorganization".
I thank you for all you assistance and if you need anything please don't hesitant to contact me.
Amira El, M.S.Ed
Instructional Support Provider
Second Opportunity School @ Queens Outreach
New York City Dept. of Education

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