A complaint filed by Rutgers Education and Health Law Clinic (Rutgers) with the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) on August 17, 2018, alleges that the North Star Academy Charter School in Newark has engaged in a pattern and practice of imposing discipline without regard to students’ disability status, resulting in the inappropriate suspension and retention of students with disabilities and a denial of a free and appropriate public education.

Education Law Center, in a letter to the NJDOE on August 17, is supporting the Rutgers complaint.

Rutgers filed the complaint under a procedure requiring the NJDOE to investigate systemic violations of special education law by districts and charter schools. Rutgers’ clinical law fellow, Deanna Christian, Esq., prepared the complaint based on the Clinic’s representation of individual North Star Charter students and families, an examination of North Star’s discipline policy, and NJDOE data regarding suspension rates.

North Star Academy Charter School is managed by the Uncommon Charter network based in New York City. Under a single charter granted by the NJDOE, North Star actually operates 13 separate charter schools in Newark, enrolling approximately 4,000 students.

To manage classroom behavior in its Newark charter schools, North Star relies heavily on a “paycheck” system in which a student’s loss of dollars or points, and his or her ultimate detention or suspension, may result from minor infractions, such as poor posture, off-task behavior, or incomplete work or homework. Many of the infractions may be related to a student’s disability.

The NJDOE data examined by Rutgers revealed that, during the 2016-17 school year, North Star suspended 29.1% of students classified as eligible for special education and related services, placing it among New Jersey public schools with the highest discipline rates for students with disabilities. During that same period, all other K-12 charter schools in Newark suspended less than 9% of their special education students, while Newark Public Schools (NPS) suspended only 1.3% of those students.

“Some parents of students with disabilities who attend North Star have reported more than thirty out-of-school suspensions in a year, resulting in loss of instructional time and retention,” said Ms. Christian. “North Star’s use of the paycheck system, without modification for students with disabilities, has a disproportionate and discriminatory impact on those students and must be revised.”

The data presented to the NJDOE by Rutgers is consistent with complaints ELC has received from North Star parents. ELC also noted that North Star’s high suspension rate for students with disabilities was accompanied by a low enrollment rate of those same students: during 2016-17, only 7.3% of North Star’s students were classified, compared to 15.48% of NPS students.

“We applaud the Rutgers Clinic for requesting that the NJDOE investigate an apparent pattern at North Star of imposing excessive and inappropriate discipline on students with disabilities,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC senior attorney. “A 29.1% suspension rate for students with disabilities is shockingly high, as is North Star’s low enrollment rate of classified students. North Star, like every other New Jersey charter, is obligated to ensure its discipline policies support, and do not undermine, the right of students with disabilities to a free and appropriate education under state and federal law.”

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Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24

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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240