out-of-school factors

Repeating a Halloween pattern, students skipped school today

Attendance was down at schools across the city today, an annual Halloween phenomenon that teachers said is driven by rumors of gang violence.

Eighty-two percent of students came to school today citywide, well below the average daily rate of 92 percent, according to preliminary attendance data posted on the Department of Education’s website.

Attendance was lowest at high schools and in pockets of Brooklyn and the Bronx. At several schools where daily attendance averages about 75 percent, including Banana Kelly High School and Lehman High School in the Bronx, only about 40 percent of students showed up today.

Assemblyman Karim Camara told GothamSchools that parents reported low attendance in many Central Brooklyn schools. On Twitter, Brooklyn high school teacher Stephen Lazar said only 50 to 60 percent of his students had come to school today. Another teacher, Janine Whitman, said only 2 of her 12 students were in class this morning. “We were missing many students AND teachers today!” wrote Mark Anderson, who teaches at an elementary school in the Bronx.

One reason for the low attendance is persistent concerns that gang violence will spike on Halloween, thought to be a popular day for initiation challenges. In 1997, vigorous warnings by Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Chancellor Rudy Crew prompted 40 percent of students citywide to stay home, and many schools canceled afternoon activities.

A teacher said students at his Bronx high school, where at least a third of students were absent today, had warned him of increased gang violence on Halloween.

“Some of my students told me for my own safety’s sake that while biking home through the Bronx I should watch out for groups of young men in bright red or black hoodies and should steer clear of them,” he said in an email. “Some of my students said that they had arranged for rides in cars to and from school today because gangs hang out outside the 2 train stop in their neighborhood. Our students were also excused from uniforms for today so that they wouldn’t get harassed during their commute.”

Rumors of mass violence did not pan out in 1997 or periodically over the years when they have resurfaced.

A South Bronx high school teacher said she thought her students knew they had nothing additional to worry about today.

She said her students are “kids who are not afraid of gang violence but know that attendance is historically low and they won’t be missing much.”

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.