into the light

City secretly renewed police control over school safety in 2003

A 1998 agreement that gives the city’s police department control over school safety is still in effect, despite city officials’ insistence that it had expired more than six years ago.

The revelation has advocates and elected officials lambasting the city for not disclosing the agreement’s extension.

The original agreement, between Mayor Rudy Giuliani and then-Board of Education President William Thompson, was set to expire in 2002 and was widely assumed to have done so. But in fact, Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein quietly renewed the agreement in January 2003.

The renewal came to light for the first time this month, after Assemblyman Karim Camara urged his colleagues to consider school safety issues when deciding how to vote on mayoral control, according to Udi Ofer, director of advocacy for the New York Civil Liberties Union. The NYCLU was working with legislators to raise the profile of school safety in the mayoral control fight.

When Camara met with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Silver showed him a copy of the memorandum’s renewal, Ofer said. The paragraph-long agreement was signed by Bloomberg and Klein on Jan. 22, 2003, and does not include an expiration date.

The renewal contradicts information the City Council received during a 2007 hearing on school safety, where council members repeatedly asked whether any formal document existed to define the relationship between the city schools and the police department.

At the hearing, a deputy chancellor, Kathleen Grimm, testified that mayoral control made such an agreement unnecessary, because the mayor controls both the schools and the police. (I reported about the hearing for Insideschools.)

Grimm’s inaccurate testimony is important because it shows just how little accountability exists in the realm of school safety, Ofer said. In addition to Grimm, a police department deputy told NYCLU that no memorandum was in effect, he said.

“If they knew of this [Memorandum of Understanding], then they lied to us,” he said. “If they didn’t know, then the people who are in charge of implementing school safety have no idea of what rules govern them.”

“Either explanation would be a bad one,” he said.

After I sought comment from her office, Council Speaker Christine Quinn released a statement earlier this week calling the department’s incorrect testimony “completely unacceptable.”

“It undermines the Council’s ability to conduct effective oversight and has prevented any real conversations on the subject of reform,” she said. “When representatives of city agencies testify at Council hearings, we take it on faith that their testimony is accurate.”

Knowing the agreement was still in effect would have changed advocates’ approach to improving school safety, Ofer said. Advocates would also have pushed harder to compel the city to provide semi-annual evaluations of school safety, as required by the memorandum. At the October 2007 City Council meeting, Grimm testified that those evaluations were not taking place.

But more important than what the agreement’s existence changes is what it says about the city’s respect for the law, Ofer said.

“What’s in place was mischaracterized to the public for years,” he said. “It is fundamentally wrong when a legal document exists and the people in charge of enforcing it don’t even know it exists.”

NYCLU filed a Freedom of Information Law request against the police and schools departments to find out if a memorandum existed, Ofer said. The police department sent NYCLU a copy of the 1998 without the 2003 renewal. The education department simply did not respond, he said.

In 1998, Giuliani and Thompson, now comptroller and a mayoral candidate, inked a deal to turn control of school safety over to the police department the following year. But after 2002, the police officers assigned to schools did not disappear. Instead, their number swelled.

The October 2007 City Council hearing came after a series of high-profile flare-ups, in which students were arrested for minor infractions and a principal was hauled from his school in handcuffs after intervening in a student’s arrest.

Grimm referred me to the Department of Education’s press office for comment. I have yet to hear back.

MOUextension From Karim Camara’s Office

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”