human capital

Court ruling gives new hope to Teaching Fellows without jobs

The State Supreme Court in Manhattan today granted the United Federation of Teachers a preliminary injunction protecting 88 new teachers without permanent positions from being fired.

The Department of Education had planned to remove the teachers from the payroll last Friday in accordance with a contract the teachers signed when they joined the DOE’s Teaching Fellows program. But the union sued, saying that the Teaching Fellows contract wasn’t permitted under the terms of the UFT’s own contract. Last week, the UFT won a temporary restraining order that extended the Teaching Fellows’ paychecks until today, when the issue would get its day in court.

The preliminary injunction is an important step, but it’s not the end of the teachers’ limbo. The court’s decision today means only that the Teaching Fellows are protected from being fired until after an arbitrator has ruled on the matter, UFT spokesman Ron Davis told me.

If the arbitrator rules in favor of the DOE, the Teaching Fellows will lose their jobs, leaving them with no paycheck and only a few options back into the classroom. But if the arbitrator rules in favor of the UFT, the Teaching Fellows will stay on the DOE’s payroll.

Davis told me the union is “hopeful” that the arbitration will be complete within a week.

“We obviously believe that our position is the right one, and in this case the judge agreed that we should at least have the right to be heard,” he said.

The DOE plans to appeal the court’s decision, Michael Best, the department’s head lawyer, said in a statement.

Here’s the UFT’s full (and extensive) press release.

UFT Wins Preliminary Injunction Granting Reprieve to Teaching Fellows

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) was granted a preliminary injunction in State Supreme Court in Manhattan today preventing the New York City Department of Education (DOE) from firing Teaching Fellows hired over the summer who did not secure full-time school assignments by December 5.

Teaching Fellows are college graduates who became educators in the New York City public school system through non-traditional routes – including leaving other careers – or who did not study education. They were heavily recruited over the summer by the DOE and The New Teacher Project – a national non-profit organization that has been paid $4 million over a two-year period by the DOE – because of their expertise and the life experience they bring to the classroom.

The UFT argued that the DOE was wrong to require the fellows to sign contracts that allow for their dismissal if they did not secure permanent school assignments by December 5. The unassigned fellows are serving in schools throughout the city as full-time substitutes or in vacancies or covering leaves of absence just like educators who lost their jobs due to school closings or changes in student rosters who now serve in an Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool.

“The DOE was prepared to fire these educators just because it didn’t place them in permanent school positions,” said UFT President Randi Weingarten. “We tried to work this out, but the clock was ticking. So we went to court because we wanted to give the arbitration process a chance to work. The court saw our point of view and gave these individuals a reprieve.”

The UFT filed a grievance earlier this fall on behalf of 130 fellows who had not been hired by a school by August 28. The grievance charged that the fellows are being improperly targeted for termination because the DOE contract the fellows were required to sign does not supercede the UFT collective bargaining agreement.

On December 4, UFT officials and attorneys filed papers at the courthouse at 60 Centre Street in Manhattan seeking an injunction in aid of arbitration to prevent the DOE from firing the 88 Teaching Fellows who had not found permanent classroom positions before the matter could be heard by an arbitrator. The UFT has also filed a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) opposing the firings.

“The DOE is always talking about the need to recruit quality teachers, but what message are they sending when they treat new educators like this?” Weingarten said.

Weingarten was named as the plaintiff in the court action against Chancellor Joel Klein and the DOE.

“It’s hard to get a job anywhere in this economy right now, but many of these fellows still gave up secure jobs in other professions to come and teach here in New York City,” Weingarten added. “Now after months of letting them fend for themselves and in the middle of this economic downturn, the DOE is ready to show them the door, and that’s just not fair. It’s just another case of gross mismanagement of human resources by the DOE.”

Teaching Fellows such as Michelle Murphy often complain that they get no support from the DOE in their efforts to secure permanent teaching positions.

“It’s almost impossible to go on interviews while working in a school every day until 4 p.m.,” Murphy said, adding, “The placement support is almost nonexistent.”

Murphy complained that there is no central employment database, which forces the fellows to make cold calls to schools to ask about openings.

“Once you are done with the training, the DOE cuts you loose,” Murphy said. “Then they send you a drop-dead letter reminding you – as if you forgot – that you will be unemployed on December 5.”

Another fellow, Yves Henri Cloarec, questioned why the DOE did not scale back its hiring of fellows this fall when it was aware of the number of excessed teachers who were unable to find permanent jobs in the system.

“Why would they continue to recruit new fellows when a current batch is still available, willing and eager to perform the mission they were hired to do?” Cloarec asked.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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