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    A Second Chance for Students Left Behind

    This is heartbreaking and
    totally outrageous. They should shorten the
    paychecks of the people who instituted this
    policy.


    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
    ring hollow.

    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
    education.”

    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

    — Jake Mooney
    New York Times
    2008-02-28


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