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Patrick v. Success Academy Charter Schools, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

December 22, 2017

KIM PATRICK and AG, a minor, by and through his Parent and Next Friend, Plaintiffs,
v.
SUCCESS ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOLS, INC., SUCCESS ACADEMY PROSPECT HEIGHTS, SYDNEY SOLOMON, in her individual and official capacity as Principal of Success Academy Prospect Heights, LAMAE DE JONGH, in her individual and official capacity as Managing Director of Schools Success Academy Charter Schools, SAMUEL COLE, in his individual and official capacity as Board Chairperson, Success Academy Charter Schools-NYC Board of Trustees, and CATHERINE SHAINKER, in her individual and official capacity as Board Member, Success Academy Charter Schools-NYC Board of Trustees, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          PAMELA K. CHEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Kim Patrick and her son, AG, bring this action against Defendants seeking damages and injunctive relief. They allege that Defendant Success Academy Charter Schools, Inc.'s (“Success Academy”) disciplinary procedures for suspensions in excess of ten days constitute a denial of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Article XI of the New York State Constitution, and New York Education Law. Although the Court finds that Plaintiffs' claims raise a serious constitutional question, for the reasons stated herein, Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         AG is a seven-year old child in first grade at Success Academy Prospect Heights, a public charter school. (Complaint (“Compl.”), Dkt. 1, at ¶ 55.) Since AG started at Success Academy in October 2016, he has been suspended dozens of times; however, for purposes of this motion, the Court will focus on the two suspensions each exceeding ten consecutive days. (See Declaration of Kim Patrick (“Patrick Decl.”), Dkt. 7-2; Plaintiffs' Brief (“Pls.' Br.”), Dkt. 7-3, at 15.)[1]

         A. February 24, 2017 Suspension

         On February 24, 2017, AG was suspended for forty-five days for allegedly engaging in “extremely violent and unsafe behavior.” (Dkt. 7-4 at 32.) According to Defendants, AG:

• Grabb[ed] an Assistant Principal by the hair and us[ed] a tight grip to yank her down the hallway, while using his other hand to repeatedly hit[] her in the head and neck, leaving several marks;
• Intentionally [threw] a stool at the Assistant Principal, striking her in the hand;
• Repeatedly and forcefully yank[ed] on a lanyard worn around the Assistant Principal's neck, resulting in a neck injury that required immediate medical care;
• Repeatedly kick[ed] the Assistant Principal and another member of school leadership;
• T[ore] a mounted placard off the wall and thr[ew] it at his classmates; and
• Charg[ed] his body at and collid[ed] with the Assistant Principal.

(Id.) Because AG is a student with a disability[2], he was removed from Success Academy and placed in an Interim Alternative Educational Setting (“IAES”), as provided for under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), where the student is accused of committing “serious bodily injury.” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(k)(1)(G)(iii). On March 7, 2017, pursuant to the IDEA, Plaintiffs' counsel requested an “impartial due process hearing” to challenge the suspension. Such hearings are required to be completed by the Department of Education's Impartial Hearing Office (“DOE's IHO”). Id. § 1415(f); (see also First IHO Decision, Dkt. 7-4, at 36-37). AG remained in the IAES during the pendency of the hearing and appeals process. 20 U.S.C. § 1415(k)(1)(G). Success Academy is not a party to the DOE process. (Declaration of Nancy Bedard (“Bedard Decl.”), Dkt. 7-1, at ¶ 17); 20 U.S.C. § 1401(19)(A).

         On March 28 and 29, 2017, the IHO held a hearing regarding the February 24th suspension. (First IHO Decision at 36-41.) Plaintiffs argued that “the allegations . . . [did] not satisfy any of the criteria needed for a determination that serious bodily injury occurred” and that they “were deprived of due process by the failure of the DOE and Success Academy to arrange for a suspension hearing” under New York Education Law. (Id. at 39.) The IHO found, inter alia, that AG's suspension was “unlawful” and that he should be “immediately reinstated at Success Academy” because Success Academy violated the IDEA by failing to provide parental notice “before a disciplinary change in placement [such as an IAES] [wa]s made.” (Id. at 39-40.)[3]Furthermore, the IHO found that the factual allegations made by Success Academy “d[id] not rise to the level of serious bodily injury as that term is defined in the law” because there was a “lack of demonstrated serious injury” to the Assistant Principal. (Id. at 40 & n.4.) AG was reinstated at Success Academy after having missed approximately twenty-four days of school. (Compl. at ¶ 89.)

         B. September 12, ...


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