IPS school board candidate Ramon Batts says mistake led to plagiarism

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Pastor Ramon Batts is running for an at-large seat on the IPS school board.

Indianapolis Public Schools board candidate Ramon Batts said today he regrets representing work from three national advocacy organizations as his own in his responses to a Chalkbeat survey.

“That’s what happens when you’re doing things at 1 or 2 a.m,” said Batts.

Someone working for his campaign helped him compile the research before he sent in his responses, he said, and the citations to those sources were accidentally left off when he submitted the survey.

“It’s something I should have seen and caught,” he said.

Some of Batts’s survey answers are very similar to published material from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Washington State Family and Community Engagement Trust, containing identical words and phrases but not citing those sources. Surveys from 10 school board candidates running this fall for three seats on the board were published Monday.

For example, Batts wrote about school discipline in his survey that: “’Zero-tolerance’ policies often criminalize minor infractions of school rules, which lead to students being adjudicated for behavior that should be handled inside the school. Research shows students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the uneven application of discipline.”

On the ACLU’s website, a page devoted to the school-prison-pipeline states: “‘Zero-tolerance’ policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while cops in school lead to students being criminalized for behavior that should be handled inside the school. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline.”

Batts is running against incumbent school board president Annie Roof and three other challengers for an at-large school board seat. Most of his survey answers appear to be original work. The copied responses were not intentional, he said.

“It was just a mistake,” Batts said. “It doesn’t negate my passion for IPS students and wanting to make sure they have the right leaders on board. I’m fairly disappointed about the whole thing. Certainly, I know better.”

An English writing professor and Writing Center faculty advisor at IUPUI reviewed some of the similarities, and found them troubling. David Cardwell, who has been reviewing student papers for 13 years, said that it appears Batts would have been well-served to credit the ACLU and other sources in his writing.

“If you take someone else’s ideas, it’s plagiarism,” Cardwell said. “If you do not give them credit for their words or phrases, that’s also plagiarism. If you paraphrase, you have to change everything.”

The similarities were first noticed by a Chalkbeat commenter who goes by Karynb9, who argued in the comments under Batts’s Chalkbeat survey response that Batts’ answers, without credit to any outside sources, would have violated the school district’s own discipline policy for its students, which lists as one of 29 serious infractions that can result in a suspension or expulsion: “Engaging in academic dishonesty, including cheating, intentionally plagiarizing, wrongfully giving or receiving help during an academic examination, and wrongfully obtaining test copies or scores.”

Karynb9 could not be reached for by Chalkbeat for an interview.

“Show this to any middle school English teacher and ask if a student making those comments in a similar paper is guilty of plagiarism,” Karynb9 wrote in a comment on Chalkbeat’s site.

Batts’ campaign volunteer, the former journalist and IPS spokeswoman Kim Hooper, defended him in a comment. Another commenter also came to his defense, writing that they didn’t “see anything wrong with using reputable research information as the basis for one’s platform.”

“Where is the plagiarism, Karynb9?” Hooper asked. “Discussion is plagiarism?”

Roof declined to comment about the plagiarism charges against her opponent.

Compare other examples from Batts’ survey to other published sources

Teacher Recruitment

Batts’s Chalkbeat survey: “Educators with multilingual and multicultural backgrounds can be advocates and provide crucial support for diverse students and families.”

National Association for the Education of Young Children position paper: “Individuals with multilingual and multicultural backgrounds can be advocates and crucial support for diverse young children and families.”

Parent engagement

Batts’s Chalkbeat survey: “It is the schools’ responsibility to extend a hand of mutual collaboration to families and initiate the process of engagement.”

Washington State Family and Community Engagement Trust: “Doing so helps put the responsibility also on the schools to extend a hand to families and initiate the process of engagement.”

Correction: An earlier version of the story misidentified Kim Hooper as Batts’s campaign manager. She is a volunteer for his campaign.

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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede