Broward News

Family Claims Pivot Charter School Tried to Kick Out Special-Needs Student

Preston Cohen has always struggled in school. The 15-year-old’s speech impediment and learning disability made him require more time from teachers than the Broward Public School system could provide. “At the public school, he was overlooked and pushed to the side,” says his mother, Robyn Cohen. “He would cry every day and was very depressed, begging us not to take him.” Last year, his parents made the difficult decision to transfer their son to the newly opened Pivot Charter School in Fort Lauderdale.

Pivot is one of three in a chain based in Fort Myers. The Fort Lauderdale outpost opened in the fall of 2013. Promotional video says the curriculum centers on online learning, with personalized one-on-one time with teachers. “Pivot is open to all students. Whether your student is charging ahead or falling behind, Pivot can help every student be successful in school,” the video states.

“He loves going to school at Pivot. It was like an angel from heaven found us this school,” Cohen says. “He liked the teachers especially; they were nice and understood that sometimes he needed more help.”

Preston’s grades weren’t as high as some of the other students’, but he was making real progress. That’s why it came as a shock when Cohen received a call last Tuesday from the Exceptional Student Education director informing her that her son could no longer attend the tuition-free charter because her son needed extra attention and that wasn’t “compatible” with their curriculum, Cohen says. She met with the ESE director and vice principal at the school that afternoon, and they asked her to sign a paper releasing her son from the program. She declined.

“I was never told that they could just kick him out,” Cohen insists. “The school wanted to dismiss Preston without a valid explanation.” She speculated that the school was trying to get rid of her son to increase its ranking. In the 2013-14 school year, it was listed as an “F” school. Only 24 percent of students scored satisfactory or higher in math that year.

Preston was out of school for two days as the Cohens scrambled to find an alternative.

Then last week, Cohen says, Principal David Heeb called and said the school would work with her son.

She remains suspicious, though. “Preston says that some of his other friends who also have special needs don’t go to school there anymore,” Cohen says. “I wonder what would’ve happened if I didn’t say anything.”

New Times has left message with Heeb and with the company headquarters in Fort Myers but has not heard back.

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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.
Contact: Jess Swanson