performance assessment

At 'memorial,' students lament inattention to school closures

Led by Anzhela Mordyga, students leave a "memorial service" for closed schools outside Tweed Courthouse today.

Carrying small coffins and wearing mostly black, a group of about 100 high school students held a “memorial service” today for schools the city has closed.

The teens were organized by the Urban Youth Collaborative, a coalition of activist groups that is advocating for the city to add new resources for struggling schools instead of closing them. A recent graduate, Anzhela Mordyga, wore a black gown as she conducted the mock funeral service outside Department of Education headquarters. Another student scattered flowers as the group recessed to City Hall Park.

“This funeral service represents the damages and pain when schools are closed,” said Joseph Duarte, a freshman at Samuel Gompers High School, where students are worried that their school could be next to land on the city’s chopping block. Students who spoke at the event said they mourned not only school closures — Mayor Bloomberg has attempted 91 since he took control of schools — but also a lack of public engagement in education.

The memorial service drew attention to an issue that is at the heart of the UFT-NAACP lawsuit currently working its way through the courts.

Last month, the city teachers union and NAACP sued to stop 22 school closures and 17 charter school co-locations. Since then, the co-locations have dominated public discussion, even though they comprise a smaller portion of the lawsuit — 11 pages to closures’ 19 — and would not affect as many families.

Department of Education officials said about 10,000 students could be affected if the city is forced to revise its high school admissions offers. That includes students who were matched to new schools that might not be able to open, students who listed one of the closing schools on their applications, and others.

In contrast, if charter schools are prevented from opening, moving, or expanding, charter school advocates estimate that 7,000 families would be affected.

A major reason for the discrepancy is that charter schools have a strong and politicized constituency that was easily mobilized for a rally and campaign against the lawsuit. A rally against the NAACP’s involvement in the suit last month on the grounds that the charter schools being challenged would serve minority children drew more than two thousand attendees.

Litigation is one way to push back against school closures, but public rallies fill an important role, said Jorel Moore, a student who participated in the memorial service today.

“It’s more to the people,” said Moore, who graduates Friday from Franklin K. Lane High School, one of four high schools that will finish phasing out this year. “There are no judges, and there’s no one even judging.”

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.