Whistleblowers

UFT members protest at PEP meeting, then walk out en masse

The agenda items before the Panel for Educational Policy Wednesday night were relatively uncontroversial. But that didn’t dissuade the teachers union from staging a mass protest.

The protest was aimed at Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to remove half of teachers at 33 low-performing schools, which he announced during his State of the City speech last week. It began when more than 100 members of the United Federation of Teachers flooded the front rows of Brooklyn Technical High School’s auditorium, breaking into chants of “Save Our Schools!” and blasting whistles to delay the meeting’s start.

Michael Mendel, a union official, took the microphone to lambaste the panel, which has approved hundreds of school closure proposals since Bloomberg gained control of the city’s schools in 2003.

“You should be removed from office,” Mendel said. “You are a disgrace to public education.”

Then, in the middle of the public comment period, the group of teachers stood up and walked out en masse.

Plans to close and reopen struggling schools won’t start appearing on the panel’s agenda until next month. Last night, the agenda focused instead on proposals to move or expand schools, including Community Roots Charter School and the Academy of Young Writers.

Community Roots Charter School, a socioeconomically and racially diverse elementary school in Fort Greene that put its expansion plans on hold last year amid protest, has struggled to show academic progress. It earned a C on its most recent city progress report and an F in 2010 — a lower grade than the one earned by another charter school, Peninsula Preparatory Academy, that the city is closing this year.

PEP member Patrick Sullivan voted against the proposal. He questioned why the city wanted to expand a “failing” school and suggested the decision was politically motivated to serve the community’s newer, more affluent residents. Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said the school was in high demand in the neighborhood and had shown improvement.

In a brief exchange, Sternberg invited Sullivan to visit the school, but Sullivan declined. “I don’t need to visit the school,” Sullivan said. “It probably looks exactly like a school on the Upper West Side.”

Parents and teachers at the school where Community Roots is slated to open its middle school, P.S. 287, said they weren’t opposed to the charter school’s expansion as much as they objected to the DOE’s decision to move it into their building. The plan, they said, would stall P.S 287’s own efforts to expand.

The panel approved the plan by a vote of 9-3.

Then, members of District 19’s elected parent council criticized the DOE for not following through on a plan to open a new secondary school with middle school grades. Instead, the department decided to move an existing high school, Academy for Young Writers, into the district from Williamsburg and allow it to add a middle school starting next year.

“The kids were supposed to be starting in sixth grade and work their way up to 12th,” said Erica Perez, a council member who brought a petition opposing the school’s move that she said had more than 1,200 signatures.

Stephen Lazar, a Young Writers teacher (and a panel member at a GothamSchools event in August) said he agreed with Perez and other CEC members that the city had not included the community’s input in its decision. But in his testimony, which is below, he pleaded for the community to give the school a chance.

“I feel bad for the administrators who are now in this oppositional position with CEC 19, but it’s a good school that deserves support and I really hope that 19 will grow to love it,” Lazar said in an interview after his testimony.

The panel approved that plan 10-0, with two abstentions.

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.