war of words

UFT outlines legal strategy to combat Bloomberg's SIG plan

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew responded forcefully to Mayor Bloomberg’s plans to circumvent a collective bargaining requirement, saying union lawyers had a multi-pronged approach to push back against the city’s tactics.

First, the union said it would petition a state labor board to force the city to accept a mediator in talks over new teacher evaluations. The union suggested arbitration two weeks ago when evaluation talks broke down, but the city has rejected the request.

And regardless of what the board decides, Mulgrew indicated today in a press conference that he would sue over the gambit the city has proposed to get around the evaluation requirement. That plan would switch the status of 33 schools in a federal improvement program and require half of their teachers to be replaced.

“If the Department of Education tries to implement changing these schools from their current status, we will be taking appropriate legal action,” Mulgrew said.

The city can not move forward yet without approval from the state education department, which administers federal funding attached to the school improvement strategies. Walcott detailed the plans in a letter to Commissioner John King yesterday but King has yet to respond.

In the meantime, Mulgrew ratcheted up rhetoric against Mayor Bloomberg, who took the UFT head-on several times during his education-centered speech.

“What I saw yesterday inside of his state of city speech was so sad,” Mulgrew said at a press conference where he announced that the UFT officially submitted an impasse petition to the state’s Public Employee Relations Board. “What I saw was a man who is trying to set up a smoke screen about the decade of disaster that he has  put upon our city schools.”

“He would rather start a fight with us so people will stop talking about how bad his legacy on the schools has been during his mayoralty,” Mulgrew added.

PERB can only be roped in on collective bargaining issues, not other conflicts between the city and union. Settling on new teacher evaluations does require collective bargaining, and that’s why the union is asking for PERB’s intervention.

But the city is arguing that its decision to switch the 33 schools to a federal improvement strategy that doesn’t require new evaluations, turnaround, makes the union’s PERB appeal moot. “PERB has no jurisdiction in this matter,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement.

In addition, the DOE is acting hastily to establish that the 33 new turnaround schools no longer require teacher evaluations to secure the federal funding. Walcott distributed parents letters explaining the current situation to each of the schools today.

We are proposing to convert your school from its current model to a model called “Turnaround.” This will allow for a school-based committee to measure and screen existing staff using rigorous standards for student success, and to re-hire a significant portion of those staff. We believe that the Turnaround model can enhance the quality of teaching learning in your school.

The letter was apparently produced so quickly that the DOE didn’t have time to translate it into different languages for homes where English is the second language. Only English versions were issued today, with translated copies to be ready on Tuesday, a DOE spokeswoman said.

Mulgrew responded to the letter by writing one of his own to union members working in the 33 schools that received Walcott’s note.

Dennis Walcott’s letter home to parents of Banana Kelly H.S. regarding the status of SIG schools.

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

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.