into the light

City secretly renewed police control over school safety in 2003

A 1998 agreement that gives the city’s police department control over school safety is still in effect, despite city officials’ insistence that it had expired more than six years ago.

The revelation has advocates and elected officials lambasting the city for not disclosing the agreement’s extension.

The original agreement, between Mayor Rudy Giuliani and then-Board of Education President William Thompson, was set to expire in 2002 and was widely assumed to have done so. But in fact, Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein quietly renewed the agreement in January 2003.

The renewal came to light for the first time this month, after Assemblyman Karim Camara urged his colleagues to consider school safety issues when deciding how to vote on mayoral control, according to Udi Ofer, director of advocacy for the New York Civil Liberties Union. The NYCLU was working with legislators to raise the profile of school safety in the mayoral control fight.

When Camara met with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Silver showed him a copy of the memorandum’s renewal, Ofer said. The paragraph-long agreement was signed by Bloomberg and Klein on Jan. 22, 2003, and does not include an expiration date.

The renewal contradicts information the City Council received during a 2007 hearing on school safety, where council members repeatedly asked whether any formal document existed to define the relationship between the city schools and the police department.

At the hearing, a deputy chancellor, Kathleen Grimm, testified that mayoral control made such an agreement unnecessary, because the mayor controls both the schools and the police. (I reported about the hearing for Insideschools.)

Grimm’s inaccurate testimony is important because it shows just how little accountability exists in the realm of school safety, Ofer said. In addition to Grimm, a police department deputy told NYCLU that no memorandum was in effect, he said.

“If they knew of this [Memorandum of Understanding], then they lied to us,” he said. “If they didn’t know, then the people who are in charge of implementing school safety have no idea of what rules govern them.”

“Either explanation would be a bad one,” he said.

After I sought comment from her office, Council Speaker Christine Quinn released a statement earlier this week calling the department’s incorrect testimony “completely unacceptable.”

“It undermines the Council’s ability to conduct effective oversight and has prevented any real conversations on the subject of reform,” she said. “When representatives of city agencies testify at Council hearings, we take it on faith that their testimony is accurate.”

Knowing the agreement was still in effect would have changed advocates’ approach to improving school safety, Ofer said. Advocates would also have pushed harder to compel the city to provide semi-annual evaluations of school safety, as required by the memorandum. At the October 2007 City Council meeting, Grimm testified that those evaluations were not taking place.

But more important than what the agreement’s existence changes is what it says about the city’s respect for the law, Ofer said.

“What’s in place was mischaracterized to the public for years,” he said. “It is fundamentally wrong when a legal document exists and the people in charge of enforcing it don’t even know it exists.”

NYCLU filed a Freedom of Information Law request against the police and schools departments to find out if a memorandum existed, Ofer said. The police department sent NYCLU a copy of the 1998 without the 2003 renewal. The education department simply did not respond, he said.

In 1998, Giuliani and Thompson, now comptroller and a mayoral candidate, inked a deal to turn control of school safety over to the police department the following year. But after 2002, the police officers assigned to schools did not disappear. Instead, their number swelled.

The October 2007 City Council hearing came after a series of high-profile flare-ups, in which students were arrested for minor infractions and a principal was hauled from his school in handcuffs after intervening in a student’s arrest.

Grimm referred me to the Department of Education’s press office for comment. I have yet to hear back.

MOUextension From Karim Camara’s Office

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Week In Review

Week In Review: A new board takes on ‘awesome responsibility’ as Detroit school lawsuits advance

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The new Detroit school board took the oath and took on the 'awesome responsibility' of Detroit's children

It’s been a busy week for local education news with a settlement in one Detroit schools lawsuit, a combative new filing in another, a push by a lawmaker to overhaul school closings, a new ranking of state high schools, and the swearing in of the first empowered school board in Detroit has 2009.

“And with that, you are imbued with the awesome responsibility of the children of the city of Detroit.”

—    Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens, after administering the oath to the seven new members of the new Detroit school board

Read on for details on these stories plus the latest on the sparring over Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Here’s the headlines:

 

The board

The first meeting of the new Detroit school board had a celebratory air to it, with little of the raucous heckling that was common during school meetings in the emergency manager era. The board, which put in “significant time and effort” preparing to take office, is focused on building trust with Detroiters. But the meeting was not without controversy.

One of the board’s first acts was to settle a lawsuit that was filed by teachers last year over the conditions of school buildings. The settlement calls for the creation of a five-person board that will oversee school repairs.

The lawyers behind another Detroit schools lawsuit, meanwhile, filed a motion in federal court blasting Gov. Rick Snyder for evading responsibility for the condition of Detroit schools. That suit alleges that deplorable conditions in Detroit schools have compromised childrens’ constitutional right to literacy — a notion Snyder has rejected.

 

In Lansing

On DeVos

In other news