Twilight Zone (Updated)

Lukewarm reception for revised Lower Manhattan rezoning plan

Deputy Chancellors Kathleen Grimm and Marc Sternberg hear feedback from parents on plans to rezone schools in District 2.

The Department of Education’s third — and likely final — proposal for rezoning in Manhattan’s District 2 received a lukewarm reception from Lower Manhattan parents at a public hearing Monday night.

DOE officials retracted some of the more controversial elements of the department’s rezoning proposal but warned that some overcrowded schools would not see relief, prompting grumbling from parents who had come to urge the officials to build more schools in the district.

In the revised plan, unveiled this week, Tribeca’s popular P.S. 234 and the Greenwich Village’s P.S. 41 and P.S. 3 will not be rezoned. Two of the original proposals, which called for the rezoning of schools in Lower Manhattan, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village, were unanimously rejected by the District 2 CEC earlier this month.

Now, the rezoning’s only major effect would be to trim some Lower Manhattan school zones to create a zone for the Peck Slip School, a new elementary school that is set to open in Tweed Courthouse next fall.

City officials, including deputy chancellors Marc Sternberg and Kathleen Grimm, said the change in plans was a response to vocal opposition from parents at P.S. 234, who argued that altering the school’s zone would change its character. But Sternberg and Grimm stressed that the tradeoff is that their latest proposal would not meet demand for school seats in the neighborhood. The parents had urged the officials to build more schools rather than shifting students among existing ones.

“You’re right to ask for more, but we don’t know if we can give you more,” Sternberg said. “We are looking for solutions where the money falls short, as it most certainly will.” 

“I consider it much better than the previous proposal,” Tribeca parent Einar Westerland told the audience. But Westerland, whose 10-year-old son attends P.S. 234 and whose 3-year-old will enter kindergarten next fall, said he recognizes that the new plan for his school, which has a long wait list for admissions, will not change the demand on seats.

“I support the CEC suggestion that parents who are wait-listed be given some preference — to be put through a lottery system and sent to some arbitrary section of the city is not acceptable,” he added, referring to a part of the CEC’s proposal that would call for students who are zoned for the overcrowded schools but cannot finds seats to be given preference in the general lottery for schools.

CEC officials said the addition of the as-yet unzoned Peck Slip elementary school, which would incubate in Tweed Courthouse, the DOE headquarters, before being placed somewhere in Downtown Manhattan, would do too little to alleviate the district’s endemic overcrowding.

“We’re growing faster than we can build our way out of the problem,” council member Michael Markowitz said. “Peck Slip alone is not enough.”

The Department of Education presented this revised proposal for rezoning several schools in Lower Manhattan. Click image to expand it.

Kelly Shannon, principal of P.S. 41, and Lisa Siegman, principal of P.S. 3,  told officials at the meeting that they are happy preserve the schools’ shared zone in Chelsea and Greenwich Village. help both those schools managed enrollment in equitable ways so that every zoned family is given a spot in one of the two schools. Currently families in those areas can chose which school to attend, but the DOE’s original proposal would have split up the two schools.

About 30 of the parents at the packed meeting came from P.S. 116 in Murray Hill, which had not been affected by any of the rezoning plans but is also facing overcrowding. A new school set to open in 2013 is meant to siphon off over-enrollment there, but P.S. 116 parents have been waging a campaign to find relief sooner. Last night, they urged the department to open a new elementary school, for the area earlier than planned as an alternative to adding more kindergarten seats to their school.

Meera Wagman, whose son is in kindergarten at P.S. 116, urged officials to allow the new school, P.S. 281, to incubate in a satellite location while its building is under construction. P.S. 281 is scheduled to open in 2014.

Crowding at the school has put a strain on space, she said. “It’s unsafe, and it’s a bad environment for learning.”

“We have serious concerns about the incubation you’ve proposed,” Sternberg said, responding to a proposal the CEC put forth two weeks ago when it vetoed the rezoning plan. “But we are not ready to foreclose on it. We hope to find a solution that’s good for everybody. We may not.”

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