A Second Chance for Students Left Behind
This is heartbreaking and
totally outrageous. They should shorten the
paychecks of the people who instituted this
By Jake Mooney
A BANNER over the doors at Boys and Girls High
School, a 3,600-student brick behemoth on
Fulton Street in Brooklyn, greets arriving
students with the school’s longstanding slogan.
“Pride and Joy of Bed/Stuy,” it reads, in red
letters. For Darrius Spann, a former student
who was riding the E train the other day to his
part-time job as a security guard, the words
Mr. Spann first arrived at the school, as a 15-
year-old student with a learning disability, in
2003, when enrollment there was closer to
5,000. He missed classes and was late several
times, and before long he was suspended. When
he returned, he says, administrators told him
he would be on a reduced schedule, discharged
after five periods instead of eight. Weeks
later his schedule was shortened again, from
five periods to three. Finally, the next
semester, he was assigned to sit in an
auditorium with about 100 other students from
7:30 to 10:30 each morning, filling out school
worksheets before going home.
He hoped to get back to regular classes, he
said, but that never happened. Instead, far
behind on credits, he was transferred to an
educational center for problem students, where
he got in trouble and was suspended again. In
2005, after being refused readmittance to Boys
and Girls, he dropped out.
Mr. Spann’s fate is hardly remarkable in a city
where, by even the most optimistic measures,
only 6 out of 10 high school students graduate.
But his mother complained to Advocates for
Children of New York, a nonprofit group, and he
joined a class-action lawsuit against the
city’s Department of Education. The lawsuit
charged that the shortened schedules and the
auditorium program deprived Mr. Spann, along
with hundreds of others at Boys and Girls, of a
fair chance at an education.
The lawsuit was filed in October 2005. On Nov.
14, United States District Judge Jack B.
Weinstein in Brooklyn approved a settlement: It
is to become final in February. Mr. Spann, and
those hundreds of other students, will be
eligible for G.E.D. classes, counseling,
tutoring and trade school training. Some will
get more time to earn their diplomas. All in
all, attorneys for the students say, they will
get a second chance.
A Department of Education spokeswoman said, “We
believe the agreement is in the best interest
of all parties.”
The issue, said Matthew D’Amore, a partner at
the law firm Morrison & Foerster who
represented the students pro bono, is not
whether students like Mr. Spann behaved badly
or deserved to be punished. Rather, he said, it
is that teenagers who made mistakes, even early
on, were permanently written off.
“The sheer design of the system,” he said,
“made it impossible to catch up.”
The system did not develop in a vacuum: In a
school once regarded as one of the city’s most
lawless, faculty and parents had largely
rallied around Frank Mickens, the principal who
retired in 2004 after two decades in the job.
He was known for his no-nonsense demeanor and
strict discipline, even as critics accused him
of pushing out low-achieving students. Mr.
Mickens, like-minded staff members and parents
maintained that the school’s conscientious
students should not be hindered or endangered
by their less disciplined peers.
But for students who say they were excluded,
the time languishing in the Boys and Girls High
School auditorium was a bitter one. Stepping
off the train in Long Island City, Queens, and
heading to work, carrying a plastic bag with
his uniform inside, Mr. Spann reflected on his
lost months at the school.
“They only wanted to help certain students, who
I guess they felt wanted to be helped,” he
said. But, despite his problems, he had wanted
help, too, he said, adding, “I only wanted my
Now, at 20 years old, he may finally get it. As
part of the settlement, he said, he will pursue
a G.E.D., then take courses in welding — a
trade he observed firsthand while working as a
guard next to a construction site.
He came to a stop in front of an art museum
where he has his latest security job. He was
sorry, he said with a smile, but he had no time
left to talk. He turned and headed inside for
his shift, five minutes early
New York Times
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