investigation report (updated)

Report: Factions and improprieties but no theft at Shuang Wen

A Chinatown school that has been mired in allegations has been cleared of at least one of them, but it’s still under scrutiny.

A report released today by the Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon says investigators did not find proof of large-scale theft, which some at the school had alleged. But investigators did unearth some unorthodox financial practices that Condon has reported to the Department of Education, with the advice that the city offer accounting training to parents and administrators at the school.

The DOE’s Office of Special Investigations is still looking into different allegations against Shuang Wen, according to the report.

UPDATE: DOE officials said the SCI report identified five different ways in which school administrators violated department rules and regulations about fund-raising and financial management.

“We are deeply troubled by Commissioner Condon’s findings, which show that standard operating procedures, Chancellor’s regulations, and City Conflicts of Interest Law were repeatedly violated — specifically with regard to financial management of the school,” said DOE spokesman Matthew Mittenthal in a statement.

Mittenthal said the department aimed to conclude its investigations after speaking Ling Ling Chou, Shuang Wen’s former principal who was removed from the school this summer. Chou has “tentatively agreed” to an interview with DOE officials next week and could potentially be reinstated after the investigations are closed, he said.

SCI investigators concluded that the school’s parent association did not violate any rules by voting to transfer $81,000 to SWAN, the nonprofit that helped found the school and administered its after-school program.

Last year, NY1 revealed that the dual-language school was illegally charging families for mandatory Chinese instruction during the after-school program.

What investigators did find, according to the report, were warring factions of parents. The report notes that “a constant stream of complaints” had led to many investigations at the school — as many as nine were were open when Chou was removed.

From the report:

From 1998 until 2008, no one — neither the parents nor anyone from the DOE — complained to SCI about alleged misconduct by the principal at PS 184 or questioned the propriety of the operation of the dual language and after school programs. Starting in 2008, and continuing throughout the course of this investigation, SCI received a constant stream of complaints about the Shuang Wen School. One faction of vocal parents made steady complaints about SWAN — the community based organization which helped found the school — the PA, and Ling ling Chou, the former principal. Another faction countered with other complaints. Chou also reported allegations as she was required to do so. This caused overlapping investigations. Additionally, a federal lawsuit was filed by one faction against the other faction and the DOE. That action is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The full SCI report is below:

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.