walkout

Students turn backs on PEP members before co-location vote

Tilden Campus high school students walk out of a PEP meeting, protesting plans to co-locate an elementary school.
PHOTO: Monica Disare
Tilden Campus high school students walk out of a PEP meeting, protesting plans to co-locate an elementary school.

Compared to last week’s marathon meeting where the Panel on Education Policy voted to close 22 schools, Wednesday night’s hearing was significantly shorter (four instead of nearly eight hours). But it still featured a slew of controversial proposals to change schools.

It also featured a brief dust-up over the two newest members of the panel who have ties to charter schools. After raising questions about the discipline model at Success Academy Charter Schools, panel member Patrick Sullivan said, “I know we have an attorney for the network joining us.” Sullivan, who was appointed by the Manhattan borough president, frequently votes against the mayor’s proposals.

“I’m not on this panel to represented Success or because I’ve done pro-bono legal work for Success,” said the attorney, David Brown. Brown recused himself from a vote about a proposal to co-locate a Success Academy middle school with four district schools in Harlem. The proposal passed.

Two other co-location proposals drew most of the crowd in the ornate auditorium at Brooklyn Technical High School.

One was a proposal to open an elementary charter school, the New American Academy Charter School, on the Tilden campus in Brooklyn, where three high schools are currently located. Students, teachers, and parents protested the plan to panel members before staging a walkout an hour and a half into the meeting.

Dorothy Stanislaw, a senior at Kurt Hahn Expeditionary Learning School, one of the high schools on the Tilden Campus, told the panel that less space for her school could lead to less one-on-one attention for students. “I’m going to college. I’m already on that path,” she said. “Don’t put my friends’ educations at risk.”

During the panel discussion after public comment, Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said the campus would be at “maximum 70 percent capacity” with a new elementary school. He also said housing an elementary school with high schools was an arrangement the city had implemented successfully in other locations.

Several parents and PEP members raised questions about whether having elementary schoolers, who do not have to walk through metal detectors before entering the building, would harm efforts to keep guns out of the high schools on campus.

Monique Waterman, a spokeswoman for City Councilman Jumaane Williams, said the councilman “will take this to the streets and to the courts.” Eric Waterman, Kurt Hahn’s parent coordinator, said Tilden Campus parents and students plan to sue the Department of Education for not giving notice about the co-location plans in languages other than English, for compromising student safety, and for reallocating space currently used to educate students with special needs. Advocates for Justice, a law firm that has filed suit against several other co-location plans, will file the suit by March 30, Waterman said.

After Tilden students walked out, debate turned to a proposal to co-locate a new charter school, East Harlem Scholars Academy Charter School II, on a campus where an existing school, Central Park East I, was denied space to expand into a middle school.

“This is a familiar story,” Sullivan said after public comments. “When space does materialize, it goes to a charter school.”

As usual, all seventeen proposals passed. The panel, which is dominated by mayoral appointees, has never rejected a city proposal.

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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede