space invaders

As public schools protest land deal, a college counterdemonstrates

JREC supporters
JREC supporters at yesterday's demonstration

What was planned as a choreographed demonstration turned into a showdown in front of Tweed Courthouse yesterday between supporters of an Upper East Side school complex and backers of the construction project that would displace it.

Now 13 years old, Julia Richman Education Complex was one of the first school complexes in the city to hold multiple small schools, and its well-publicized successes with struggling students made it a model for the Department of Education’s efforts to break down many large high schools.

But for the last two years, JREC community members have been fighting a complicated real estate deal that would require it to relocate.

The president of nearby Hunter College, Jennifer Raab, wants to tear down JREC and erect a massive science building in its place. In exchange, Hunter would make sure JREC gets a new and improved building — but it would be more than 40 blocks south. Parents, teachers, and students from the six schools in the building, which include schools for autistic children and immigrant teenagers, say relocating JREC would undermine the community that has been cultivated there.

DOE officials have said they’re interested in Raab’s proposal, provided that the new school really does come at no cost to the city. Yesterday, members of the Campaign to Save JREC arrived at DOE headquarters to present a petition against the move with so many signatures that it stretched from the sidewalk, up the front stairs, to the front door and beyond.

They were surprised, leader Jane Hirschmann told me, to find a sizable group of teenagers and Hunter College faculty with signs of their own supporting the new science facility.

The two groups exchanged shouts, with teens from JREC shouting, “2, 4, 6, 8 — Children first, not real estate,” and science building supporters trying to drown them out with chants of their own. Many of the Hunter supporters were not Hunter College students but actually high schoolers from the Upper West Side’s college-supported Hunter/Manhattan Science High School.

No one, including JREC’s backers, disputes Hunter’s need for a new science building. Gail Scovell, Hunter’s lawyer, told me that the school’s research grants are in jeopardy because its facilities are considered sub-par. And this fall, she said, the school didn’t have enough room to let sophomore take organic chemistry, required for admission to medical school.

But JREC supporters say the college should use its own land downtown for a new science building, instead of trying to move JREC there.

A fact sheet the college distributed at the rally argues that a science building uptown would allow cross-pollination between the sciences and liberals arts at Hunter. Faculty members also told me that students don’t like traveling downtown for their science classes.

Wendy Selnick, a 1977 graduate of Hunter’s nursing program who lives across the street from JREC and came to the rally to support the complex, said she found the commuting argument spurious. “Tens of thousands of nurses have made the trip,” she said.

Donna Nevel, a member of the campaign’s steering committee, said the DOE’s interest in the Hunter deal defied logic. “JREC is a complex of schools that really are serving all kids,” Nevel told me. “A school like that should be celebrated instead of destroyed.”

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.