Process of elimination

Against mounting criticism, city targets 17 schools for closure

The Bloomberg administration is trying to make the most of its last chance to close schools.

The Department of Education today announced plans to shutter 17 low-performing schools in four boroughs and will propose more schools for closure on Tuesday. That means the Bloomberg administration is on track to begin phasing out more schools in its last year than in any previous year — though fewer than some speculated.

Last year, the department proposed closing 17 schools and shrinking eight more during its regular closure process. It also proposed closing and reopening 24 others as part of a controversial overhaul process that ended after an arbitrator ruled that the process violated the city’s contract with the teachers union.

The large number of closure proposals is not a surprise. The city wants to open 50 new schools this fall, and it needs to put them somewhere. Plus, some of the schools proposed for closure today have escaped the city’s ax in recent years, including six that the city wanted to close and reopen through the overhaul process, called “turnaround.” Another school, Choir Academy of Harlem, was one of nearly two dozen schools saved from closure by a union lawsuit two years ago.

The department is proposing to close two of the schools, Freedom Academy High School and M.S. 45 in Manhattan, outright at the end of the year. The rest of the schools would phase out over time.

The closure proposals come as criticism of the Bloomberg administration’s closure policies is coming from new directions. In addition to the advocates and school communities who have dutifully protested school closures each year, several mayoral candidates have said they would halt or dramatically scale back school closures. State Education Commissioner John King has joined the chorus, putting his concern about the impact of closures on high-need students on the record over the last year.

In July, the Urban Youth Collaborative and the Coalition for Educational Justice filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education charging that the city’s school closures have disproportionately affected students of color and students with disabilities.

Similar complaints filed by advocates in other cities have already triggered investigations, and Maria Fernandez, who coordinates the Urban Youth Collaborative, said the department is set to decide whether to investigate New York City by the end of the month.

“We’re optimistic. I think we have a strong case based on the numbers and data that we’ve seen over and over and over again around school closures in this city,” she said.

Department officials said they selected the schools for closure after weighing community input and assessing how likely the schools are to improve without being phased out or closed. The elementary and middle schools on the list have test scores that average less than half of the city average, while the high schools have an average graduation rate that is 83 percent of the city rate.

“These are difficult decisions that we’ve arrived at after thoroughly evaluating each school’s record — and now is the time to take action,” Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said in a statement.

But critics of the Bloomberg administration’s school closure policies said the schools are struggling because of the department’s inaction in the past and should not be penalized now.

“Under his direction the Department of Education does not feel like its job is to support schools,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said today.

The 17 schools were culled from 62 whose academic performance landed them on the Department of Education’s closure shortlist. Two charter schools that the department considered closing will remain open, but with short-term charter renewals, the department announced today.

Last year, the department tried to shutter the two charter schools it shortlisted for closure. But both schools fought back in court, with one arguing successfully that the city’s process for closing schools was “riddled with inconsistencies and lacks a certain level of transparency.”  The city opted to reverse course on the second charter school, Peninsula Preparatory Academy, and kept it open for at least one more year.

The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the proposals at its March meeting, after a series of public hearings and, presumably, protests. The panel includes a parent whose child attends one of the schools, but its majority is controlled by the mayor and has never rejected a city proposal.

The schools proposed for closure today are listed below, by borough:

Manhattan

High School of Graphic Communication Arts*
M.S. 45/S.T.A.R.S. Prep Academy***
Choir Academy of Harlem
Bread & Roses Integrated Arts High School*

The Bronx

M.S. 203
Herbert H. Lehman High School*, **
P.S. 064 Pura Belpre
Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications
MS 142 John Philip Sousa*, **

Brooklyn:

Freedom Academy High School**, ***
P.S. 167 The Parkway
J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin*
J.H.S. 302 Rafael Cordero
Sheepshead Bay High School*
General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science**

Queens

P.S. 140 Edward K Ellington
Law, Government and Community Service High School**

*City proposed the school for turnaround in 2012 before the process was halted
**City considered closing the school during the 2011-2012 school year but opted not to
***City is proposing to close the school at the end of the year, rather than phase it out

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.