On and On

As student protests continue, DPS plans forums on social justice, race

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
South High School students gathered at East High School early this afternoon.

On the fourth consecutive school day of walk-outs by Denver Public School students, district officials moved forward with plans to host a series of student forums about race and social justice.

One of the first forums was this afternoon at South High School, where hundreds of students walked out of class earlier today.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg sent a letter to parents and community members announcing plans to hold conversations about race and social justice with students late last week. He said the district had also provided guidance to school leaders on how to discuss protests and Ferguson in their classrooms.

The letter quotes Bill de La Cruz, DPS’s Director of Equity and Inclusion: “We can do three things around race: Not talk about it and act like it doesn’t affect us, wait for a problem and react to it, or we can get past our fear and just have the conversation and talk about the impact of race. We all have a responsibility in shifting race relations, and we need to work together to create a dialogue that’s safe.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced today that he will also lead a series of conversations about race throughout the city, starting in December.

Hundreds of students have been involved in the protests. East High School students organized a walk-out out last Wednesday. Since then, students at Lincoln, Montbello, George Washington, and North high schools and the Denver School of the Arts have also walked out of school.

The students are joining protesters across the country who have raised concerns about racial discrimination and police brutality, spurred by a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo.

“We have conveyed very strongly to our students the importance of all our students conducting themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner as we deal with these challenging conversations,” Boasberg wrote in his letter to parents. “But we also have made it clear that we at DPS believe that our students’ opinions matter.”

The district forum at South this afternoon included representatives from the police department and the school system. Students were to talk about today’s protest and the issues that prompted it.

At a similar event last week at East, Boasberg said that the district wanted to make sure “students stay safe and that these remain learning experiences.”

Across the district, schools where students have not walked out are also responding to both the decision in Ferguson and the protests. One school hosted an assembly last Friday where students could air their concerns. And students at Manual High School are planning an event where they will discuss and debate issues about social justice and Ferguson later this week.

Some students at Denver School of the Arts walked out today despite a letter to students and families from Principal William Kohut that encouraged them to stay in class, saying that the school will have an event about social justice and inequity when school returns in January.

The South High School protest today was the second to take an unexpected turn. South students had planned to walk to Washington Park this morning, but instead continued past the park to first the state capitol, and then to East High School.

Students at East also took their protest off of school grounds. Several police officers who had accompanied the students were hit by a vehicle. East students later sent flowers to one of the injured officers.

No one was injured today. The South students were accompanied by their principal, district staff, police and Americorps volunteers affiliated with the district. A fleet of school buses followed them from the park to the capitol and finally to East.

South High School students protesting Ferguson and police brutality.
PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
South High School students protesting Ferguson and police brutality.

Once they reached East, South students encountered a separate planned press event organized by two local activists, Alvertis Simmons and Reginald Holmes, a pastor at New Covenant Christian Church, who were at the school to comment on last week’s protests at East. Simmons and Holmes spoke to the students through a bullhorn, encouraging them to stay engaged after the walk-out and to respect police officers even while criticizing the system.

The students then dispersed to school buses—some clearly glad to be off of their feet after close to two hours and five miles of marching.

How are you and your students addressing race and police brutality in the classroom?

 

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.