Desegregation

Former board member: Racial isolation persists in Denver schools

In 1995, Laura Lefkowits, then a Denver Public School board member, was in the district’s office when a staff attorney came with some news: The district was no longer bound by a 22-year-old federal court order to desegregate its schools.

“It’s over,” Lefkowits remembers the attorney saying.

In a lecture at the History Colorado museum in Downtown Denver Tuesday, Lefkowits begged to differ.

“It’s not over,” she told a crowd.

Lefkowits, who has been studying desegregation efforts in the city for two years, traced the evolution of the district and city’s approach and attitude toward desegregation over time in an hourlong talk called “Segregation in Denver Public Schools: The 1960s and Today.”

Keyes v. School District no. 1, a lawsuit aimed at forcing the district to integrate its schools, led to the first federal desegregation order outside the southern states. From 1973 until 1996, Denver students were bused across the city in an effort to create racial balance of black, Latino, and white students in the schools. (A consent decree that stemmed from this case still governs how Denver works with its English language learners.)

Its impact was profound. More than 30,000 students left the district in the wake of busing, and though enrollment in DPS has been surging in recent years, it has still not returned to its 1969 level. The district’s demographics have also almost flipped: While white students were a majority in the late 1960s, Hispanic students make up more than half of the student population now.

Lekowits said the decision to remove the order in 1995 was emblematic of cultural attitudes toward integration at the time.

But almost 20 years after that court order was lifted, Lefkowits said, many Denver students attend schools with  high levels of racial isolation, and schools that have high concentrations of students of color and low-income students are more likely to be lower-performing — the very issue the initial cases aimed to address.

At one point, DPS was required ensure that each school’s racial mix was within 15 percent of the district’s overall demographic profile. Lefkowits found that in 2014-15, just 15 percent of the district’s 186 schools meet that goal for Hispanic students, while 20 percent of the district’s schools are more than 90 percent Hispanic.

Most schools that earn low ratings by the district have higher concentrations of students of color and students who live in poverty.

Lefkowits praised the current board for specifically including improving the academic performance of students of color and closing the “opportunity gap” between white students and their peers” in the most recent version of the Denver Plan, the district’s strategic roadmap.

Lefkowits’s talk covered much more of the political and cultural context surrounding the issue, including changing public attitudes toward integration efforts, the advent of school choice systems (which, she said, had been dismissed by a federal judge as a way to ensure integration in schools), and funding issues.

At the end of the event, a History Colorado researcher took an informal poll of the audience to determine how many had been directly affected by busing, either as parents, decisionmakers, or children. Close to a third of the mostly elderly crowd raised their hands.

Lefkowits told Chalkbeat last year that she believed the attendance zones created during her tenure on the district’s board concentrated low-income students in Manual High School, leading to a series of challenges for the school.

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.