Third time's the charm

City council members criticize charter schools at hearing, though few networks attend

City Council education committee chair Daniel Dromm gave Tuesday’s charter school hearing a splash of color when he donned a bright orange T-shirt and criticized Coney Island Preparatory Charter School’s discipline policy.

The school requires misbehaving students to wear a different uniform and sit separately from their peers—a policy Dromm said represents a larger problem of overly harsh discipline at charter schools.

Discipline was just one of a long list of concerns he and other City Council members raised at Tuesday’s twice-postponed oversight hearing on charter schools. They also addressed charter school policies surrounding enrollment, discipline, parent involvement, interactions with other schools on co-located campuses, teacher retention, and salaries for top officials.

But in part because the city’s largest charter networks didn’t send representatives to the hearing, the toughest questions went to Department of Education officials, whose responses were amicable but firm.

Laura Feijoo, senior superintendent in the department’s Office of School Support, repeatedly reminded council members that the department does not have authority over all city charter schools, only those for which the department was the initial authorizer. (The city stopped serving as an authorizer of new schools in 2010 but still has the authority to approve the renewal or revision of charters it authorized before then.)

In response to questions about discipline policies, Feijoo said that it’s up to charter schools to develop their own policies and share them with parents. But she indicated that the department would review discipline policies at city-authorized schools.

“I promise you I will go back and take a look at those policies and report back to you,” she said.

Feijoo also said the department supports a bill introduced by Councilman Andy King that would require it to release demographic and academic data about all co-located schools, district and charter, on a yearly basis.

Even as City Council members grilled Feijoo and other representatives from the department, many took pains not to antagonize the new administration.

“I acknowledge that you haven’t been in office very long, that much of what is in place comes from the previous administration. We want to be able to give you time to correct some of these situations to the extent that you can,” Dromm said.

The charter school landscape has changed significantly since Dromm first announced plans for the hearing in March, when it looked as if the relative freedom—and free rent—many charter schools had enjoyed under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg might be under threat. Dromm said he was “deeply concerned” about Success Academy’s closure for a rally in Albany and promised to use the council’s oversight powers to investigate the city’s charter sector.

Since then, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign promise to charge rent to well-heeled charter management organizations earned a sharp rebuke from state lawmakers, who outlawed that possibility in the state budget deal. De Blasio offered private space to three Success Academy schools whose co-locations his administration blocked, and a coalition of “community based” charter schools is now in regular contact with City Hall.

Several of those charter schools’ principals spoke at the hearing, wearing oval stickers identifying them as part of the coalition. After testifying, Stacey Gauthier, principal of Renaissance Charter School in Queens, said she was relieved that Dromm didn’t let the hearing “become a circus” given how polarizing conversations about charter schools can be.

Charter leaders whose schools got the most flak from Council members were more critical, though they didn’t attend the hearing. Moskowitz, who held over 100 oversight hearings during her tenure as chair of the City Council’s education committee, released a statement referring to “today’s theatrics.” Jacob Mnookin, who heads Coney Island Prep, called the hearing “a spectacle” and encouraged Councilman Dromm to visit the school and observe its school culture firsthand.

Charter schools also faced criticism outside Council chambers. Critics of charter schools, including former education committee Robert Jackson, held a rally outside Department of Education headquarters before the hearing to protest recent changes to state law.

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

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.