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Disturbing video of a teacher berating a first-grader angered many parents — but not for the reason you'd think

Success Academy
Success Academy

(screengrab via NYTimes)
A screenshot from the Success Academy video.

A secretly recorded video emerged Friday in which a first-grade Success Academy teacher berated a student who couldn't answer a math question correctly, ripping up the girl's paper.

A teacher's assistant had leaked the video to The New York Times, which published the video along with an article examining whether the video reflected wider practices at Success Academy, New York City's largest network of charter schools.

Success Academy held a news conference Friday to fire back at the paper and accuse it of "gotcha tactics" to tear down the school.

"I read the story in the morning, and I thought it was not only unfair — it was insulting," said Youssef Senhaji, a father of three Success Academy students.

When the video was published, Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz said the incident was an anomaly. The teacher in the video called it a "lapse in emotional control," according to The Times, which said interviews with 20 current and former Success Academy teachers suggested her actions were extreme but not uncommon.

Senhaji was one of dozens of parents and teachers who attended the Success Academy news conference to express their anger at the newspaper, which they said sold a false narrative about the schools.

For many parents at the news conference, last week's article seemed to aggravate a perception of The Times as lecturing minority parents in a paternalistic way. Success Academy has 11,000 students in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Its website indicates that 93% of its students are children of color, and 76% are from low-income households.

Last year, The New York Times also wrote a piece that was critical of SA. The report included interviews claiming students in the third grade and above were wetting themselves in classrooms because they felt so stressed out and didn't want to lose time during standardized tests. The same article described the public shaming of students for poor grades.

"I'm keeping it civilized, because when I read this thing this morning and was home alone, you don't want to hear what I was saying," Senhaji added before arguing that The Times was overstepping its bounds by suggesting that parents were unaware of what was going on their kids' schools.

Natasha Shannon, a mother with three daughters at Success Academy, echoed this sentiment.

"I don't understand why The New York Times thinks it has to educate me as a parent about the school that I choose to send my children to," she said.

"I'm not some poor, uninformed parent or someone who is not aware of what's available in New York City schools," she added. "I chose Success. I made that choice because it's the best choice for my daughters."

Eva Moscowitz
Eva Moscowitz

(Abby Jackson)
Success Academy CEO Eva Moscowitz at Friday's news conference.

The news conference was punctuated by raucous applause and shouts of "that's right" and "say it again" when the teachers and parents agreed with what one of the speakers had to say about their schools.

"We can't get a fair shake from the so-called paper of record," Moskowitz said at Friday's event.

One of the most boisterous rounds of applause came after Success Academy teacher Candice Seagrave spoke.

"The most heartbreaking part of all of this is the feeling that you don't believe that black and brown kids can be successful," she said.

For its part, The Times told Business Insider that it rejected Moskowitz's criticism of its coverage.

"We would have done this story if that video were filmed in a traditional public school, a Catholic school, or an independent school, and we would have explored the question of whether or not it represents larger problems within those institutions," The Times said in a statement.

Success Academy Press Conference
Success Academy Press Conference

(Abby Jackson)
Teachers and parents at the Success Academy news conference.

Students in the Success Academy far outperform students in traditional public schools in New York City on standardized tests — even students in wealthy ZIP codes, as Reason has pointed out.

Seagrave, the Success Academy teacher, questioned the motives behind The Times' decision to run the 60-second video.

Still, this is not the first time the school has come under fire, particularly by people interviewed in The Times, for practices at its schools.

On Friday, the news conference about the most recent video ended with a brief time allotted for questions from the media.

"Is the girl who was scolded in the video still a student at Success Academy Cobble Hill?" Kate Taylor, the Times reporter who wrote the story about the video, asked.

Moskowitz was unable to provide an answer. "I would have to confirm that," she said.

View the full video below.

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