[redacted]

The investigation into a top school official that you never read

A page from the investigators' heavily redacted report.
A page from the investigators' heavily redacted report.

The big news of the day is this story in today’s Daily News and Times, about Christopher Cerf, a deputy schools chancellor who is one of Joel Klein’s closest aides. The News reports that investigators last year concluded that Cerf had violated city law, by improperly using his position to extract a $60,000 donation from a company on contract with the city at the time, Edison Schools. The donation would have gone to a charity on whose board Cerf sat and which he told investigators he was trying to save. Ultimately, after being questioned by investigators, Cerf decided not to pursue the donation.

The violation is noteworthy, especially given the other conflict-of-interest imbroglio Cerf was wrapped up in at the time: After coming under fire for holding substantial stock in the same company, Edison, which he had been president of before coming to the department, Cerf released his holdings in the stock — but only 24 hours before being publicly questioned about it.

But it will become even more noteworthy in the days ahead because of this: The report was never publicly released. It’s only surfacing now because of a Freedom of Information Law request originally filed by Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters (and no friend of the Department of Education’s, to be sure). And even this copy — which I have and am trying to upload for everyone else to see — is heavily redacted, as you can see above.

The result is not only resurrected questions about Cerf’s propriety, but bigger questions about how sufficiently the Department of Education is held accountable. The DOE claims its current structure has more accountability than ever before, since, if the public isn’t happy with the schools and their officials, they can vote out the mayor who runs them. But advocates charge that the current structure allows school officials to hide from scrutiny. This report provides them some new ammunition.

The DOE is arguing that the investigation is not relevant because, according to Cerf, it “exonerated” him. Here’s what Cerf told the Times:

“If you’re asking me do I have any regrets, I will tell you absolutely not,” Mr. Cerf said. “I did absolutely what I was supposed to do. I disclosed everything; the Conflicts of Interest Board gave it the back of its hand.”

“Raising money for a not for profit, tell me, what’s wrong with that?” he added.

“There is nothing here other than an investigation that exonerated me. The only real story here is that I was put through a rather tortuous experience.”

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

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.