space wars

De Blasio: City fails to engage parents on school siting issues

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, speaking today on the steps of the Department of Education's headquarters at Tweed Courthouse
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, speaking today on the steps of the Department of Education

When two courts halted the city’s plans to close 19 public schools this year, judges ruled that the city didn’t follow state law that requires it to engage parents and report the impact that the changes will have on students’ educations.

Now Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is arguing that the city is making the same mistakes when it decides to place multiple schools in the same buildings.

In a report released today, de Blasio charges that the city did not give parents enough information about how changes to space usage would affect instructional programs or about public hearings on the changes.

“They’re just doing the minimum amount of parent outreach so they can say they did,” de Blasio said today.

De Blasio’s office and the Alliance for Quality Education surveyed nearly 875 parents at 34 schools, about half of those that the city proposed moving into new, shared space last year. (Roughly half of public schools citywide currently share building space with other schools.)

The survey included responses from parents at both district and charter schools. It also included several schools that were the sites of fierce battles over colocation last school year, including the Clinton School for Writers and Artists and the American Sign Language School; Girls Prep Charter School and P.S. 188; and PAVE Charter School and P.S. 15.

More than 40 percent of the parents who responded said that the city had not provided specific detail on how the school’s current offerings would change under altered space arrangements.

When the city makes any changes to how school facilities are used, state law requires it to prepare an “educational impact statement” (EIS) detailing how the changes will affect students and the surrounding community. Fewer than half of the parents reported that they even knew that the city had prepared an analysis of the changes, and only a quarter ever saw a copy of the analysis.

The court rulings threw out the city’s EIS’s for its 19 school closure proposals, but judges were silent on whether accompanying proposals to move new schools into those buildings would also be affected. In part to avoid another lawsuit, the city struck a deal with the teachers union to place fewer new schools in buildings alongside schools that had been slated to close.

Speaking at a press conference with de Blasio today, a parent leader at one of the schools affected by that deal complained that parents had been shut out of the process from the start.

“We never hear about the hearings,” said Yvette Chico, vice president of the parent association at he William H. Maxwell CTE High School. “They never let us know.”

De Blasio has staked out a cautious middle ground between the city and the union on education issues, endorsing the charter cap lift but also calling for a halt on siting them in city school buildings. Under a rallying cry of boosting the parent voice in the school system, de Blasio has made colocations his central education issue.

DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld said that the city was always trying to improve how it engages with parents, but criticized de Blasio’s focus on the educational impact statements. City officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have frequently said that the importance of their school closing efforts outweighs the details of state law.

“We wish the Public Advocate showed the same amount of concern for our children stuck in failing schools as he does for DOE processes,” Zarin-Rosenfeld said.

De Blasio said that he did not know of any potential legal challenges to the DOE’s process of siting schools, nor did he challenge the legitimacy of school siting arrangements that were approved last year. Instead, he called for a moratorium on new school colocations until the city improves its process.

And Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, called on Albany to revise the school governance law to make explicit exactly what information the city needs to include in its impact statements.

Here’s the full report:

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