tug of war

In Harlem, a reignited fight over homes for charter schools

As it tries to find homes for more than 20 new charter schools that are set to open this fall, the city is reigniting concerns about whether charter schools should be given space inside public school buildings.

In recent weeks, the Department of Education has announced that it will allow several charter schools to open inside existing school buildings. Last week, the DOE told Harlem’s PS 241 that it will close and be replaced by a new charter school in the Harlem Success Network, run by the divisive Eva Moskowitz. Some PS 241 backers say the DOE is favoring charter schools rather than trying to improve a low-performing neighborhood school. But charter proponents say that local schools have performed poorly for so long that the DOE is merely responding to parents’ demands by offering space for more charter schools.

PS 241 is the first zoned school the DOE has proposed replacing wholesale with charter schools. (Another charter school moved into the building in 2006.) But the arguments over whether charter schools should be given space in DOE facilities are not new. In fact, Elizabeth reported about a nearly identical situation a year ago, also in Harlem. Just substitute PS 241 for PS 123 in this summary of the politics around the charter school fight:

Ms. Moskowitz brought hundreds of parents to P.S. 123 last night to make the case that adding a new charter school there would improve public education by improving parents’ options. She said 3,500 students have already applied to the three schools she aims to open by September. …

P.S. 123 parents are opposing the education department’s recommendation, arguing that the charter school would be an unwelcome intrusion. …

[PS 123’s PTA president] said she is receiving support from parents around her district, as well as from the teachers union, the NAACP, and several Harlem elected officials, including Assemblyman Keith Wright, state Senator Bill Perkins, and City Council Member Inez Dickens. …

Mr. Wright issued a long statement yesterday decrying Ms. Moskowitz’s effort to place her school in P.S. 123 as divisive and predicting it will fail. “The way to protect our children’s educational opportunity is not by piggybacking off of our already overburdened public school system, nor is it by waging war against the current students and families of P.S. 123, as Mrs. Moskowitz is attempting to do,” Mr. Wright said.

A group of Harlem parents associated with Ms. Moskowitz’s school quickly shot back with their own statement. “I find Keith Wright’s statements to be ignorant, offensive, and alienating towards the community he is supposed to be serving,” one parent, Kyesha Bennett, said. “I expect more.”

We’ll be on hand tonight at PS 194 for a public hearing about the DOE’s plan to locate yet another Harlem Success school in the building. “It’s going to be a big mess,” said Harriet Barnes, president of the parent council for Harlem’s District 5, which opposes housing charter schools inside district school buildings.

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.