school choice

Harlem parents say they want their local schools shut down

A group of parents is sharply criticizing the Department of Education for backing away from its decision to shut down struggling neighborhood elementary schools, saying Mayor Bloomberg should “take a hard line” and turn over the buildings to be used as charter schools.

The parents, who are zoned to have their children attend two of the schools that would have been closed and replaced with charter schools, said that they want the mayor to shut the schools down because the schools are dirty, dangerous, and filled with teachers who are “just there for a paycheck.”

“I live across the street from 194,” one mother, Melissia Daley, wrote of P.S. 194, a Harlem elementary school that would have been closed under the city’s original plan. “Although it’s a zoned school and very convenient for me and my child, I wouldn’t even try to put my child in there because the children are well behind in grade.”

“If they are closing 241 to put a better school in its place, then they should do that,” one parent, Martinique Owens, said, of another Harlem school, P.S. 241, in a similar situation.

Their statements came in a press release issued this afternoon by a spokeswoman for the Harlem Success Academy network of charter schools, Jenny Sedlis. Two Harlem Success schools were planning to become the sole occupants of the P.S. 194 and P.S. 241 buildings after those schools closed. Those schools will have to continue sharing space with district elementary schools next year.

Representatives of the Harlem Success network called parents registered for next week’s admission lottery, told them that the charter schools were being threatened by government action, and asked them to attend a meeting today about the conflict, according to Cherokee Rivero, a mother who has entered her son in the lottery that determines who gets into Harlem Success.

Rivero estimated that about 40 parents turned out for the meeting, where they wrote short statements about why they didn’t want their children to attend their zoned school. “If it takes me to write this letter to get something better for my son, then I will,” Rivero, who attended PS 194 herself from 1994 to 2000, told me tonight.

The release attacks the teachers union for filing a lawsuit opposing the DOE’s plan to replace the two elementary schools with charter schools. The lawsuit was initiated by the United Federation of Teachers and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Its plaintiffs included several community members not otherwise associated with the union, as well as the union’s president, Randi Weingarten. The union and parents alleged that the DOE’s bid to replace the schools represented an illegal alteration of school zone lines.

“Does Randi Weingarten think she knows better than me what is best for my child? The school is broken and I don’t want to send my child there. Why does she think she can speak for me?” a mother named Melissa Anderson, whose child is zoned for P.S. 241, said in a statement.

Weingarten responded today in an interview with Elizabeth, accusing the founder of Harlem Success, the former City Council member Eva Moskowitz, of devolving into personal attack. Moskowitz took on labor unions in council hearings, and then lost a run for Manhattan borough president after Weingarten’s union organized against her. “Let her run great schools and do great things for kids, and let me do great things for kids,” Weingarten said. “But this nonsense that the only way to elevate herself is to bring other people down: she should be above that.”

The entire press release is after the jump:

Harlem Parents to Mayor Bloomberg: Get Real, Close These Failing Schools!

NEW YORK, NY – April 2, 2009 – More than 175 parents of students in the attendance area of two failing Harlem schools demanded today that the schools be shut down by Mayor Bloomberg.

“My son attends P.S. 194. He comes home unhappy everyday. P.S. 194 has taken his joy,” said Janet Walker, mom of Nasir. “I want a new chance for him to get his joy back. He deserves a better education.”

The parents, whose children are zoned to attend P.S. 241 and P.S. 194 came to several meetings at Harlem Success Academy to talk about how to keep their kids from having to attend the two failing schools.

Both failing schools have been targeted by the Department of Education for closure, but the move has been opposed by the powerful United Federation of Teachers, which filed a lawsuit to protect employees at the unpopular public schools. In addition to demanding action from Mayor Bloomberg, the parents argued that the UFT does not represent their interests, calling it shameful that the union would so blatantly attempt to keep children in substandard academic environments just to save teacher jobs.

“Does Randi Weingarten think she knows better than me what is best for my child? The school is broken and I don’t want to send my child there. Why does she think she can speak for me?” said Melissa Anderson, mother of a child zoned for P.S. 241.

The parents took aim at attempts by the UFT to pretend it was speaking for parents in the name of “saving public education” when all the union was doing was driving families to have to pay for private schools for their children.

“I’m tired of these special interests claiming they represent me. Did the teachers union ask me if P.S. 241 should close? If they asked me, I would have said, yes, absolutely” said the mom of Emanuel Agbavitor, a first grader at P.S. 241. “I never get to see my child’s teacher, I don’t know how he’s doing in school and they don’t return my phone calls.”

Parents said if Mayor Bloomberg wants to be known as the education mayor, he can’t pander to the teachers union and must take a hard line against failure.

“The teachers union is trying to prevent a bad school from closing and me from sending my child to the school of my choice,” said Thiong Sall, mother of two children zoned for P.S. 241. “Mayor Bloomberg should not listen to the union and should instead listen to parents like me.”

“I live across the street from 194 and although it’s a zoned school and very convenient for me, I wouldn’t put my child in there because the children are well behind,” said Melissa Haley. “I used to attend 194. I would prefer a school where it is not only clean which 194 isn’t, but also where there are teachers that are willing to see children get not 65% but 100%.”

“I feel good about them closing 194. Teachers are there just for a paycheck, not to help kids learn,” said Shamecca Davis, mother of Tytiana. “Children beat each other up and there are not enough supervisors.”

“If by closing P.S. 241 they can put something better in its place then it should definitely close,” said Martinique Owens, mother of a kindergartner zoned for P.S. 241.

“The school is not good. I had my oldest son in that school. The teachers yell at the students and don’t pay enough attention to the parents and students. I pulled my older son out and I will not send my younger one there” said Octavio Maldonado, parent of two children zoned for P.S. 241.

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