THE BLOG
10/26/2015 07:27 am ET Updated Oct 26, 2016

Moskowitz's 'Suspension' Academy's Code of Misconduct

In a PBS NewsHour interview John Merrow questioned Eva Moskowitz, CEO of the Success Academy Charter Schools about the charter school network's "Code of Conduct" and suspension policies. During the interview he reported accusations that Moskowitz and her "Suspension" Academies were using disciplinary action to weed out students who would potentially lower the Network's average scores on high-stakes standardized exams.

Merrow also reported the suspension rates at Success Academy Charter schools are almost three times higher than in regular New York City K-12 public schools. Other studies have found similarly disproportionately high suspension rates at Success Academy schools. These figures are even more outrageous because seventy percent of Success Academy "scholars" are elementary school students unlikely to be involved in serious anti-social or dangerous behavior.

Eva Moskowitz responded to what she considered the misrepresentations in Merrow's report in an email to Judy Woodruff, managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. Moskowitz accused Merrow of factual inaccuracy and "dishonest and unethical journalism" and demanded a "correction and an apology." Merrow is an honored education reporter for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System. In 2012 he became the first journalist to receive the McGraw Prize in Education.

In the email Moskowitz was irate that a parent who appeared in the broadcast was allowed to minimize the misbehaviors of her son that led to his suspension and voluntary transfer out of one of her charter schools. Moskowitz's response included a long list of serious infractions by the boy that she claimed threatened injury to either him, other children, or adults. Moskowitz also challenged reports that her charter school network pushes out lower performing students to boost its average test scores.

Success Academy's code of misconduct is six pages long with 65 infractions ranging from minor or Level 1 violations such as slouching or failing to be in "Ready to Succeed" position, to middle or Level 2 misconduct like forgetting to bring a pencil or pen to school, to more serious Level 3 infractions like play fighting or repeated littering. The most serious Level 4 infractions include continued violation of the lesser misbehaviors, bullying, and "blatant and repeated disrespect for school code." In-house and home suspension from school starts with Level 2 infractions. Penalties for "scholars" accused of Level 3 or Level 4 infractions include immediate expulsion from school. Principals have discretion when meting out punishment. "A scholar's prior conduct and his or her disciplinary history may be factors in determining the appropriate consequence for an infraction." It is not clear how many times a student has to forget his or her pencil to be suspended from school.

John Merrow posted the Success Academy Network's disciplinary code which is distributed to all parents. Surprisingly I was unable to find it on any of the Network's numerous websites.

As a career teacher, I know that schools, like all communities and societies, need cultural guidelines to define appropriate interactions between people and that children need structure in their lives as they grow, learn, and mature. But we also need to remember we are teaching children who get upset or frustrated, are forgetful, and sometimes act out. I find the infractions petty and the penalties at Success Academy Charter Schools highly punitive, especially for younger children, but readers can judge for themselves.

Success Academy rules are a manifesto for zero-tolerance policing policies brought into an elementary school. Research on the impact of zero-tolerance policies continually demonstrates that they are detrimental to both a student's emotional and academic growth, reinforce student behaviors they are supposed to eliminate leading to further suspensions, and increasingly exposed suspended to influences that virtually ensured further problems in schools and with the police.

Some of the rules at Success Academy read like they could have been copied from a Department of Corrections guide for disciplining incarcerated prisoners. Others seem like a return to Maoist China "struggle sessions" during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s when people accused of misconduct made public confessions of their misdeeds and mis-thoughts. Students can be suspended from school or expelled for behavior that occurred outside of school time and off of school grounds.

The question I keep asking myself is "Are Success Academy scholars engaged in misconduct or is the real malefactor the Suspension Charter School Network?"

Excerpts from "The Rules at Success Academies" posted by John Merrow

My comments are in BOLD. See how many of the Suspension Academy rules you broke as a child.

Anytime a scholar violates school or classroom rules or policies, it is considered a behavior infraction. Behavior infractions include, but are not limited to:
Non-compliance with the school dress code
Non-compliance with the school attendance policy
Non-compliance with the code of conduct

We must ensure that our scholars are safe at all times in our schools. Success Academy has a zero-tolerance approach when it comes to aggressive or violent conduct that puts the safety of our scholars or staff in jeopardy . . . Scholars who engage in aggressive or violent conduct will be suspended. Scholars who hit because "he hit me first" will also be suspended.

Scholars who repeatedly disregard directions, compromise the safety of others, or violate our policies may be suspended.

A short-term suspension refers to the removal of a scholar from the school for disciplinary reasons for a period of five days or fewer. A long-term suspension refers to the removal of a scholar for disciplinary reasons for a period of more than five days. Expulsion refers to the permanent removal of scholar from school for disciplinary reasons.

If your scholar is suspended, a member of the school leadership team will call to inform you. You will receive a suspension letter at pick up or within 24 hours. You should make arrangements with the school for mandatory alternative instruction for your scholar during his or her suspension.

[V]iolations of the Code of Conduct and resulting consequences are subject to the discretion of the Principal and may be adjusted accordingly. A scholar's prior conduct and his or her disciplinary history may be factors in determining the appropriate consequence for an infraction.

The Code of Conduct will be enforced at all times. Scholars must adhere to the Code of Conduct when at school on school grounds, participating in a school sponsored activity, and walking to or from, waiting for, or riding on public transportation to and from school or a school-sponsored activity. Serious misconduct outside of the school is considered a school disciplinary offense when the misconduct or the scholar's continued presence at the school has or would have a significant detrimental effect on the school and/or has created or would create a risk of substantial disruption to the work of the school.

Code of Conduct

Level 1 Infractions
Slouching/failing to be in "Ready to Succeed" position
Calling out an answer [This was consistently my worst violation as a child. Sometimes I raised my hand after shouting out an answer.]
Chewing gum or bringing candy to school
Minor disrespectful behavior

Range of School Responses, Interventions, & Consequences for Level l Infractions
Warning/reprimand by school staff
Scholar is reminded of appropriate behavior and task at hand
Scholar is reminded of what he/she is like at his/her best and of past good behavior
Scholar is reminded of past poor decisions and provided with productive alternatives/choices that should be made
Scholar is given a non-verbal warning
Scholar is given a verbal warning

Level 2 Infractions
Committing a Level 1 Infraction after intervention [such as chewing gum again]
Verbally or physically dishonoring a fellow scholar (which includes, but is not limited to, teasing, name calling, being rude, mocking, etc.)
Verbally or physically dishonoring faculty, staff, or other Success Academy community members (which includes, but is not limited to, being rude, disobeying instructions, etc.)
Using school equipment (e.g. computers, faxes, phones) without permission
Bringing electronic equipment to school of any kind without school authorization (which includes, but is not limited to, cell phones, Game Boys, iPods, headphones, pagers, radios, etc.)
Unauthorized possession or use of a cell phone
Failing to follow directions [which automatically elevates a Level 1 infraction to Level 2]
Failing to complete work [because maybe your family spent the hospital night in the emergency room with a sick person?]
Being off-task
Arriving late to school/class and/or violating school attendance policy [Didn't they ever hear of transportation delays?]
Violating the Dress Code [clothes were dirty and no one did the wash]
Being unprepared for class (which includes, but is not limited to, failing to bring a pencil, not completing homework, etc.) [How many times did you forget a pencil?]
Wearing clothing or other items that are unsafe or disruptive to the educational process
Failure to obtain signatures for required assignments
Disrupting class or educational process in any way at any time (which includes, but is not limited to, making excessive noise in a classroom, failing to participate, refusing to work with partners, etc.)
Leaving the recess area during recess without permission from an authorized adult
Being in an off-limits location without permission
Failing to be in one's assigned place on school premises
Getting out of one's seat without permission at any point during the school day [I think I did this one all the time as a young child]
Going to the bathroom without permission or at undesignated times [even if you have to go badly]
Making noise in the hallways, in the auditorium, or any general building space without permission [This is like every day]
Inappropriate noise levels in lunchroom, gym, and during arrival and dismissal
Engaging in unsafe behavior, failing to use recess equipment properly, or failing to follow directions during recess
Excluding classmates in games/activities during recess
Littering on school grounds

Range of School Responses, Interventions, & Consequences for Level 2 Infractions
Scholar is reminded of appropriate behavior and task at hand
Scholar is given a verbal warning
Removal from classroom for "Time Out" outside of the classroom (administrator's office)
Student-Teacher-Parent conference
Student-Parent-Administrator Conference
In-school disciplinary action (which includes, but is not limited to, exclusion from recess, communal lunch, enrichment activities, sports, school events, trips, or activities)
Verbal or written apology to community
In-school suspension (possibly immediate) in a buddy classroom
Out-of-school suspension (possibly immediate)
Other consequences/responses deemed appropriate by school (including, but not limited to, extended suspension for a fixed period or expulsion)

Level 3 Infractions
Committing a Level 2 Infraction after intervention
Dishonoring a fellow scholar using profanity, racial slurs, or any foul or discriminatory language
Dishonoring a faculty, staff, or other Success Academy community member using profanity, racial slurs, or any foul/discriminatory language
Disobeying or defying school staff or any school authority/personnel
Using profane, obscene, lewd, abusive, or discriminatory language or gestures in any context (which includes, but is not limited to, slurs based upon race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability)
Posting or distributing inappropriate materials (which includes, but is not limited to, unauthorized materials, defamatory or libelous materials, or threatening materials)
Violating the school's Technology and Social Media Acceptable Use Policy (which includes, but is not limited to, using the Internet for purposes not related to school/educational purposes or which result in security/privacy violations)
Forgery of any kind
Lying or providing false or misleading information to school personnel
Engaging in any academic dishonesty (which includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, copying another's work, or colluding/fraudulent collaboration without expressed permission from a school authority)
Tampering with school records or school documents/materials by any method
Falsely activating a fire alarm or other disaster alarm
Making threats of any kind
Claiming to possess a weapon
Misusing other people's property
Vandalizing school property or property belonging to staff, scholars, or others (which includes, but is not limited to, writing on desks, writing on school books, damaging property, etc.)
Stealing or knowingly possessing property belonging to another person without proper authorization
Smoking
Gambling [25 cents because I know the Mets will win!]
Throwing any objects
Engaging in inappropriate or unwanted physical contact
Fighting or engaging in physically aggressive behavior of any kind (which includes, but is not limited to, play fighting, horsing around, shoving, pushing, or any unwanted or aggressive physical contact)
Leaving class, school-related activity, or school premises without school authorization
Repeatedly failing to attend class, school, or any school activity or event and/or repeatedly violating school attendance policy

Range of School Responses, Interventions, & Consequences for Level 3 Infractions
Sent to principal/school administrator
Loss of classroom/school privileges
Additional assignments which require scholar to reflect on behavior in writing or orally (depending on grade)
Call home to parents/guardians
Removal from classroom or "Time Out" outside of the classroom (administrator's office)
Student-Parent-Administrator Conference
In-School disciplinary action (which includes, but is not limited to, exclusion from recess, communal lunch, enrichment activities, sports, school events, trips, or activities)
Verbal or written apology to community
Staying after school or coming in on Saturdays
In-school suspension (possibly immediate) in a buddy classroom
Out-of-school suspension (possibly immediate)
Other consequences/responses deemed appropriate by school (including, but not limited to, extended suspension for a fixed period)
Expulsion

Level 4 Infractions
Committing a Level 3 Infraction after intervention
Repeated in-school and/or out-of-school suspensions
Exhibiting blatant and repeated disrespect for school code, policies, community, or culture
Engaging in gang-related behavior (which includes, but is not limited to, wearing gang apparel, making gestures, or signs)
Destroying or attempting to destroy school property
Engaging in intimidation, bullying, harassment, coercion, or extortion or threatening violence, injury, or harm to others (empty or real) or stalking or seeking to coerce
Engaging in behavior that creates a substantial risk of or results in injury/assault against any member of the school community
Engaging in sexual, racial, or any other type of harassment
Possessing, transferring, or using drugs, alcohol, or controlled substances
Participating in an incident of group violence
Possessing a weapon
Charged with or convicted of a felony

Range of School Responses, Interventions, & Consequences for Level 4 Infractions
Sent to principal/school administrator
Loss of classroom/school privileges
Additional assignments that require scholar to reflect on behavior in writing or orally (depending on grade)
Call home to parents/guardians
Removal from classroom or "Time Out" outside of the classroom (administrator's office)
Student-Parent-Administrator Conference
In-school disciplinary action (which includes, but is not limited to, exclusion from recess, communal lunch, enrichment activities, sports, school events, trips, or activities)
Verbal or written apology to community
Staying after school or coming in on Saturdays
In-school suspension (possibly immediate) in a buddy classroom
Out-of-school suspension (possibly immediate)
Other consequences/responses deemed appropriate by school (including, but not limited to, extended suspension for a fixed period)
Expulsion