awarded no points

Local officials quickly reject NRA's call for armed school guards

A week after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the National Rifle Association came out today with its long-awaited response. The organization’s top lobbyist announced that the NRA would lobby Congress for funds to put armed officers in all schools and, until the funding comes through, would send armed guards to any school that requests one, free of charge.

Responses from New York education officials ranged from the blunt — “The NRA is wrong,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said — to the enraged — City Council Speaker Christine Quinn called the comments “some of the most stupid, asinine, insensitive, ridiculous comments I have ever heard made in the public arena.” But they were all the same: Putting armed guards in schools won’t fly here.

The roundup of responses we’ve gotten is below. We’ll add to them as more responses roll in.

From principals union president Ernest Logan:

The NRA’s proposal in answer to the massacre at Sandy Hook School is so unbelievable and cynical that educators like me will have trouble responding to it with restraint.  Suffice it to say that the nation’s largest gun rights lobbyist’s proposal to place armed guards in every school in the nation will expose our children to far greater risk from gun violence than the very small risk they now face. Such action would turn our schools into armed camps while enriching those who make assault weapons and the most devastating types of ammunition. Instead, we must fight to ban assault weapons and the bizarre forms of ammunition now used with them.

Quinn, who is running for mayor:

Seven days after those teachers and children were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut the NRA has broken their silence. I wish they had kept their mouths shut. All they did today was add more pain and heartache to those Newtown families. Their remarks are some of the most stupid, asinine, insensitive, ridiculous comments I have ever heard made in the public arena. All these remarks tell us is that the NRA does not seem to care about protecting our children. I do not understand how even with all of those little coffins being rolled out in Newtown, that the NRA believes the answer is more guns. All that would have happened if there were armed guards in Sandy Hook Elementary is that we would now have dead armed guards. Why do we need an army style gun in that school, a gun we send to Afghanistan? I think the NRA’s comments today were a clear and blatant attempt to throw salt in the wounds of families who lost their loved ones. As a human being, I am surprised and tremendously disappointed in what the NRA did today.

Walcott:

A safe learning environment for our students is one of our top priorities. As the largest school district in the country, we know what works. The NRA is wrong. Putting an armed guard in every school building is not the answer. Our schools are safer today than they’ve been in more than a decade thanks to our collaboration with the NYPD, reforms to our discipline code to promote safety, anti-bullying and peer mediation programs, and work to remove illegal guns from the street.

State Education Commissioner John King:

Today’s statements from the gun lobby are nothing but a distraction.  The epidemic of gun violence — particularly against young people — all across the United States calls out for common sense gun control and a more thoughtful response to the mental health needs of our citizens.

AFT President Randi Weingarten:

After remaining silent for an entire week following the Newtown massacre, the NRA’s first comments were to call for more guns in our schools and our society. This is both irresponsible and dangerous. No matter how much money the NRA spends or propaganda it tries to spread, one thing is clear—the NRA is not serious about confronting the epidemic of gun violence in our nation.

Schools must be safe sanctuaries, not armed fortresses. Anyone who would suggest otherwise doesn’t understand that our public schools must first and foremost be places where teachers can safely educate and nurture our students.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg:

The NRA’s Washington leadership has long been out of step with its members, and never has that been so apparent as this morning. Their press conference was a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country. Instead of offering solutions to a problem they have helped create, they offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe. Leadership is about taking responsibility, especially in times of crisis. Today the NRA’s lobbyists blamed everyone but themselves for the crisis of gun violence. While they promote armed guards, they continue to oppose the most basic and common sense steps we can take to save lives – not only in schools, but in our movie theaters, malls, and streets. Enough. As a country, we must rise above special interest politics. Every day, 34 Americans are murdered with guns. That’s why 74 percent of NRA members support common sense restrictions like criminal background checks for anyone buying a gun. It is time for Americans who care about the Second Amendment and reasonable gun restrictions to join together to work with the President and Congress to stop the gun violence in this country. Demand a plan.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew:

Arming more people is not the answer. The way to make schools – and our society – safer is to reduce the number of guns in circulation.

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.