The scoop

KIPP asks for a secret-ballot election of teachers in Brooklyn

The logo of the Brooklyn KIPP school where teachers have asked to join the union.
The logo of the Brooklyn KIPP school where teachers have asked to join the union. From the school's ## site##.

In their first-ever appearance together since they became locked in an organizing dispute in January, the KIPP charter school network and the city teachers union remained at odds earlier this week over a petition by Brooklyn KIPP teachers to join the union.

In a conference before the state labor board, the union implored a judge to make the teachers’ petition official. KIPP officials asked instead that the state conduct a secret-ballot election of teachers before deciding whether to grant them a union. A wide majority of teachers at KIPP AMP have already turned in cards confirming that they want to unionize. New York state law only requires that card-check majority in order for public employees to form a union.

“We think an election is a fair way to accurately decide, in a democratic process. We believe in an election,” David Levin, the superintendent of KIPP New York told me in an interview yesterday.

Leo Casey, a vice president of the union, called the move a stalling tactic. “The bottom line is that they’re trying to drag it out, and they still refuse to accept that their teachers want to have a union at this point,” Casey told me in an interview yesterday.  “But the law is the law.”

The Public Employee Relations Board is expected to make a decision in the next 30 days. The skirmish is part of a larger battle between charter school supporters who believe the schools’ selling point is the fact that their teachers are not represented by unions — and teachers unions, which across the country are fighting to recruit charter school teachers into their fold.

The New York City union has taken on the feeling of a political fight. Last Friday, teachers at two other New York City KIPP schools filed petitions to sever their relationship with the union, saying they were reacting to increasing overtures by the union to play an (unwanted) role at their schools. Union officials struck back by saying that President Randi Weingarten has tried to work cooperatively with KIPP officials, reaching out to Levin personally several times – with no effect.

Here’s what Casey wrote on his Edwize blog earlier this week:

Each time, we repeated our willingness to sit down and talk, and our desire to work collaboratively with them to sustain the very best education at the KIPP schools where we now represented the teachers. We received not a single positive reply.

Levin disputed the characterization of his attitude. “I have reached out as well and not had calls returned,” he said. “Obviously, I am happy to talk any time, anywhere with anybody. I don’t think anything is deliberate at all. I just think it’s been a busy time for everybody.”

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.