annals of transparency

Against rules, some schools plan to lay low and screen students

Here’s another set of folks not being swept along by the rising tide of transparency: Schools that want to admit children according to their own preferences, not the Department of Education’s rules.

DOE policy prohibits elementary schools from giving preference in kindergarten admissions to children attending the schools’ own pre-K programs. But some schools are hoping to escape having to follow the rules simply by not being forthcoming about how they admit their students, according to a report posted today on the Times’ City Room blog. Elissa Gootman writes:

But one official at a popular elementary school that picks students by lottery said the school intended to give priority to this year’s prekindergartners anyway, insisting that the school not be named so it might “fly under the radar” and avoid City Hall’s attention.

I’m also hearing that some non-lottery schools are considering quietly exploiting a loophole in new DOE rules about kindergarten admissions as they register next fall’s kindergarten classes.

Most elementary schools guarantee admission to children who live in their zone but have extra seats to fill once they register all of the zoned children who want to attend. How those remaining seats are filled has varied from school to school and district to district in the past, but in general, principals have had considerable discretion to select families. Some schools, like the one in the City Room article, have given preference to continuing pre-K students. Others picked kids that they hoped would boost test scores. And some principals have used their discretion to add racial and economic diversity to their schools.

This year, new guidelines from the DOE aim to replace principals’ discretion with random lotteries, tiered according to different categories of students. (For example, children who live outside the zone but within the district would be chosen before a child who lives in another district could be selected.) The new rules are supposed to make applying for kindergarten less stressful for families, DOE spokesman Andy Jacob told me.

But the new guidelines contain a major loophole, according to Robin Aronow, a consultant who helps families apply to public and private schools: They leave it up to schools to conduct their own lotteries.

“Any random process that’s not done in front of the public — there’s a chance that it’s not being done randomly,” Aronow said.

Jacob said there’s no requirement that schools conduct their lotteries publicly. But he said that the DOE would “follow up” with any school it hears is not following the new guidelines.

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.