"They're actually listening"

DOE finds some supporters of its ideas to combat crowding

75 Morton Street, the subject of a rally last summer, could still become a school. (GothamSchools)
75 Morton Street, the subject of a rally last summer, could still become a school. <em>(GothamSchools)</em>

A meeting about overcrowding in Manhattan schools last night ended in surprising fashion: with the Department of Education being lauded for listening to parents.

Parents from one local school, the Clinton School for Writers and Artists, showed up to the meeting of the Community Education Council for District 2 in red, as planned, to protest the idea of their school moving. Hundreds of other parents arrived armed with protest signs and talking points about the need for more school seats in the district, which covers most of Manhattan below 59th Street and the Upper East Side. Advocates have criticized the DOE for understating the extent of crowding in the area.

But the mood relaxed after John White, the DOE official on hand, dispatched with the idea that Clinton would be asked to move. White said the DOE instead would try to ease crowding by finding a new space for Greenwich Village Middle School. That school is eager to move out of its current location on the top floor of the already overcrowded PS 3 building.

One potential site for the school, according to White: part of the state-owned office building at 75 Morton Street that parents and elected officials lobbied mightily last summer for the DOE to obtain. The state ultimately took the building off the market, but it isn’t using the seventh floor. Several elected officials, led by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, this week asked the DOE to reconsider using the space. White said the DOE is in the process of scheduling a walkthrough, the first step toward determining whether a space can become a public school.

“This is a huge shift,” said Irene Kaufman after the meeting. Kaufman is a founding member of the Public School Parent Advocacy Committee, a District 2-based group that has called for the DOE to address crowding in the district’s schools. She told me she is relieved to see the department acknowledge that moving Greenwich Village Middle School is essential to relieving the neighborhood’s space crunch.

If Morton Street doesn’t pan out, White said Greenwich Village Middle could relocate into one of the new downtown elementary schools, scheduled to come online in 2010 and 2011 with plenty of space to spare. The department would then have to move the middle school again, after the elementary schools expand.

Other space issues are yet to be resolved, including where a new middle school will be housed and what will happen if more children register for two Greenwich Village elementary schools, PS 3 and PS 41, than the schools can accommodate. But several parents said the DOE appears to be on the right track in the area.

“This is good news,” said Robert Ely, a neighborhood parent who has long argued for 75 Morton St. “That’s the bottom line. They’re actually listening.”

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.