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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

 

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