The scoop

Charter parents to rally against NAACP's lawsuit involvement

Flyer outside Harlem Success Academy 1 on Tuesday. (Tony Richards)

Charter school parents and advocates are planning a massive rally tomorrow to demand that the NAACP withdraw from the city teachers union’s school closure lawsuit.

The UFT is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit to halt 22 school closures and prevent 17 charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding. But the New York State Conference of the NAACP also signed on, as it did last year to a similar suit that ultimately blocked 19 school closures. Last year’s suit did not challenge the city’s charter school co-location plans.

Organizers expect the rally to draw thousands of attendees from dozens of charter schools, including all 17 named in the lawsuit, to 125 Street in Harlem at 8:45 a.m. Thursday. At least some schools are delaying classes to allow parents, teachers, and students to attend.

Critics of the lawsuit “can march and have rallies all day long,” said Hazel Dukes, president of the state NAACP chapter. “We will not respond.”

Dukes said she joined the lawsuit for the same reason that the NAACP brought the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, which ended “separate but equal” schooling based on race. “Co-location is not the answer,” Dukes said. “We are setting up separate and unequal education.”

But city officials and charter school advocates say the civil rights group is working to stymie school options that would benefit mostly minority students. When the suit was filed last week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he was “perplexed and bothered and bewildered” by the NAACP’s involvement. Last year, he decried the organization for signing on to the union’s school closure lawsuit.

“The NAACP are the people who I think are perhaps misplaced here,” said Kathleen Kernivan, a charter school parent who plans to attend the rally. “I’m an African-American woman. Why would the NAACP get involved in something that would negatively impact me, its constituents, and its future constituents?”

Preparations for the rally were already underway at some city schools yesterday. Parents at Harlem Success Academy 1, one of six schools in the Success Charter Network affected by the lawsuit, were called to an emergency meeting before school Tuesday.

“The teachers union and NAACP sued to kick our children out. We need to fight to keep our schools open,” read a flyer handed out to parents who attended the meeting. “ALL parents, teachers, scholars and staff will attend a rally to fight to keep our schools open.”

Meeting attendees also received phone numbers of local NAACP leaders and the template for sending a letter to Dukes requesting a meeting and that the organization pull out of the lawsuit.

“Any parent that wants to meet with me, I will meet with them anywhere they want,” Dukes said. But about the rally, she said, “We’re not even going to dignify it with a response.”

HSA 1 will not open until 10 a.m. Thursday, allowing students to attend the rally with their parents, the flyer says. “Bring your scholar to the rally,” the flyer reads, later saying, “Parents need to take children back to school after the rally. We know it’s hard, but we want all children to be safe.”

“We never miss school,” said a teacher at Success Charter school who contacted GothamSchools about the rally. “It could almost be a blizzard outside and we still come to school so the fact that we are getting a delay on Thursday is a big deal here.”

Kernivan has a son in second grade at a Brooklyn charter school that’s not affected by the lawsuit and a daughter who just got off the wait list at Leadership Preparatory Ocean Hill Charter School, whose opening is in jeopardy. She said she began receiving text messages from other charter school parents about the rally yesterday and plans to attend, after dropping her daughter off at day care, even though it means she will have to work late.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Kernivan said.

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.