missive crisis

City's conflict with bus drivers union extends with warring letters

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
A flyer distributed by the city's school bus drivers union warns parents against the city's conditions for new contracts.

The city and its school bus drivers union are each appealing to parents as they stake out their positions in a contract dispute that could cause a bus strike.

On Thursday, the city held a required meeting to explain its conditions for new contracts for school bus companies. One condition that it isn’t including, citing a 2011 legal decision, is a seniority clause guaranteeing that current drivers can keep their jobs even if the bus companies they work for do not win a new contract. That omission has drawn the ire of the bus drivers’ union, the Amalgamated Transit Union’s Local 1181, whose members authorized a strike over the issue when it first arose in 2011.

In a flyer handed out at the city’s meeting and being distributed by email, the ATU asks parents to lobby the city on bus drivers’ behalf. Telling parents that “there will be a stoppage to service to you,” the flyer warns parents that doing away with seniority protections could put children at risk.

Update: ATU 1181 President Michael Cordiello said through a spokeswoman today that the union is “exploring every option to avert a strike” but that it remained a likely possibility if the city does not cave.

“Please support us in our cause because you don’t want, ‘just anybody’ driving your children,” the flyer says. A few sentences later, in bold letters, it says, “Don’t put your child on an unsafe bus!”

Chancellor Dennis Walcott dismisses safety concerns in a letter to parents that students are taking home today.

“Please be assured that the bid also will include the same safety provisions that are in place today,” he writes, before outlining the city’s contingency plans for a strike. “Safety is our top priority and will continue to be so under new contracts.”

The Department of Education’s contingency plans are the same the city laid out over a year ago when union officials first said a strike over the seniority issue was “likely.” No interruption in bus service has taken place since.

A spokeswoman for the union, Regina Luzincourt-Eberhart, declined to provide more details about a possible strike but said that union leadership would address the issue at a press conference on Sunday.

Bus drivers are apparently also in the dark about whether they’ll be going on strike. Simon Jean-Baptiste, a veteran bus driver who once held office in the union, said today by phone that he hadn’t been notified of a work stoppage yet.

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.