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Weiner evades issue dealing with sexual misconduct in schools

This week’s Anthony Weiner sex scandal had an odd side effect for the education policy debate in the mayor’s race. It caused AFT President Randi Weingarten to raise an issue that has been a thorn in the union’s side.

“So how can Anthony run for Mayor, when a teacher for the same conduct would be fired,” Weingarten said in a tweet yesterday.

She was referring to a push to tighten punishments for teachers found guilty of inappropriate behavior that the union here has opposed. Since 2007, the city has been unable to fire nearly 100 people working in schools for a variety of sexual indiscretions that range from verbal abuse to physical contact, according to the Daily News.

It’s a tiny fraction of one percent of the city’s 80,000-plus school staff, but a group of anti-union advocates have tried to make the issue a question in the mayor’s race, asking candidates if they support giving the city more power to fire people for sexual indiscretions.

Weiner is one of the candidates who hasn’t responded to a questionairre by the advocacy group pushing candidates to take a position on tightening the rules and his spokeswoman did not respond to GothamSchools’ questions. Getting caught for sending lewd pictures of himself to women is the type of behavior that would put Weiner in the city’s crosshairs if he were a teacher.

Union favorite Bill Thompson and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, two opponents who have called for Weiner to resign from the race for his conduct, also did not respond to the questionnaire. They have not taken clear stands on the issues raised in the questionnaire.

Speaker Christine Quinn, who has not called for Weiner to resign, and Sal Albanese are the only Democratic candidates who have staked out clear positions. Both said they support legislation that would make it easier to fire teachers who have acted inappropriately with students.

“As a UFT member and former teacher, I’m a big believer in due process,” Albanese, who taught for 11 years, said in a statement. “But I also believe that we have to act as swiftly as possible to keep students safe. We need to change the law, because the current process simply isn’t accomplishing that goal.”

Of the three Republican candidates, Joe Lhota and George McDonald have also said they support the legislation. Republican John Catsimitidis and Comptroller John Liu, a Democrat, did not respond to the questionnaire and their campaigns didn’t respond to similar requests.

(See all of the candidates opinions on this issue: The Next Education Mayor)

At issue in the legislation is who should decide a teacher’s dismissal. Right now arbitrators have the final say in what constitutes “sexual misconduct” — which in the union contract is grounds for dismissal — and what the punishment should be if accusations are substantiated.

But the group of advocates, led by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, says that final judgments should fall to the chancellor.

De Blasio “doesn’t support giving the City power to unilaterally fire a teacher based on allegations alone,” a spokesman said. But Brown said that isn’t what the issue is about.

“No one supports firing based on allegations alone,” Brown said in an email. “That is crazy. The question is what should happen when a teacher found guilty, but then [the] arbitrator doesn’t fire them.”

Brown points to instances where an arbitrator has allowed teachers to keep their jobs even after they were found to have engaged in inappropriate behavior. These include cases in which a teacher asked a student for a strip tease and called students “sexy,” respectively. Both times, they were not found guilty, even though the union contract’s definition of sexual misconduct, which includes “soliciting a sexual relationship” and “serious or repeated verbal abuse of a sexual nature.”

Brown also wants changes to the union contract that put in place “zero tolerance for inappropriate touching and sexual banter,” which she said would give arbitrators “less flexibility to make these bad calls.”

In three different statements sent by Thompson’s campaign, a spokeswoman said Thompson condemned teachers who are found guilty of sexual misconduct and said they should be fired.

“Bill Thompson believes that there is no room for discussion – anybody found guilty of sexual misconduct should be fired, nothing less,” the spokeswoman said in the third statement.

Asked about Thompson’s statement, Brown said he didn’t address the gray area that exists in the arbitrator’s interpretation of what “sexual misconduct” means, according to language in the contract. She said he was “trying to avoid the issue.”

2013 NYC Mayoral Candidate Questionnaire on sexual misconduct in schools

 

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.