Thursday, February 25, 2010

Brooklyn charter school has too many rules, distraught parents say

Thursday, February 25th 2010, 4:00 AM


No touching the walls. No resting your chin in your hand. No talking in the hallways between classes. Timed bathroom breaks.

With rules like these, the Achievement First Endeavor Charter School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, could be the city's toughest school - but some distraught parents and former staffers say the overzealous discipline has left kids fearful.

"All they're concerned about is whether they're going to get detention," said Adrienne Lynch, whose eighth-grader son, Nicholas, got suspended for making a squeaking sound in the hallway.

On an average day in January, more than one in five students at the school had a detention, documents obtained by the Daily News show. And on one day, fully 100 of the school's 309 kids were punished by having to stay an extra 45 minutes.

Achievement First administrators acknowledge "high standards" for behavior, but say the detentions aren't meted out for trivial transgressions.

"There is a vocal minority that has concerns with the discipline system," said Achievement First co-CEO Dacia Toll, noting a recent survey found 90% of parents are happy with the school.

But one in 12 of the kids at the fifth- through eighth-grade school transferred out between September - when the new policies went into place - and December, documents show.

Some parents sought out the school because it's strict, but think it's gone overboard.

"I wanted the discipline and the structure because my son does have a behavior problem," said one mom, who is in the process of transferring her son. "But they suspended him for 22 days."

Some parents and former staffers charge the strict rules fall hardest on special-needs students.

Vanessa Herrar said her fifth-grade son got in trouble for copying math down from the board too slowly, even though he has dyslexia.

"It takes [Jaleel] longer to do some things," she said.

Jaleel, 11, has had detention countless times and has been suspended for roughly 10 days since September, Herrar said. "[Each time] he's backed up an additional day of knowledge," she said.

Detentions have declined since the strict policy first took effect, and there has been an easing of some rules, said Principal Tom Kaiser, who rejected the idea there was a special education problem.

He said he wouldn't apologize for rules that keep the school operating smoothly for kids who arrive there reading far below grade level.

"We're going to teach our kids how to read," said Kaiser. "There were a lot of disruptions to class and a lot of disruptions to learning. We are in a turnaround year."

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Last Updated: 11:49 AM, February 25, 2010

Posted: 4:05 AM, February 25, 2010

A Brooklyn charter's disciplinary system is more like the big house than the schoolhouse, says parents of children there.

The furor at Achievement First Endeavor in Fort Greene erupted when the new principal, Tom Kaiser, implemented a detention-heavy policy in September for infractions such as poor posture and walking out of line in the hallways, parents charge.

They claim the learning environment became a boot camp, with students racking up 100 detentions a day.

"The kids feel like they can't really say nothing, like they're in prison," said Gorlicia Thomas, who has two kids in the school. "They don't want to go to school because they don't know what to say or what to do, because the simplest thing gets them in trouble."

Paul Martinka

Paul Martinka

sports_story_lower sports_page quigo_lower 1482096 871776 440 225 * -- Several of the middle-school students said they had gotten in trouble for talking in class even when they were trying to assist one of their classmates.

School officials said they loosened some of the rules after parents complained.

They said that most students had responded well to the school's high expectations, and that 90 percent of parents who attended recent meetings rated the school favorably.

"We have lots of parents who are wildly positive of having the discipline system," said school spokeswoman Lesley Redwine.

Among them is Paul Breece, whose 11-year-old daughter attends the school.

"I know it's a little inconvenient for the children and parents, but if you set up the rules, then you got to follow them," he said. "I'm 100 percent for it. Anything to keep the kids out of trouble is good."

Meanwhile, a new report by the city's Independent Budget Office said charter schools got between 2 and 18 percent less funding per student than traditional public schools did in the 2008-09 school year.

While traditional schools got $16,678 per student in public money last year, charters housed in public spaces received nearly $305 less per child.

Charter schools that rely on private facilities received more than $3,000 less per student.

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