challenging the charters

City Council members repeat calls for oversight in letter to SUNY charter authorizer

Council Member Daniel Dromm, right, was selected to chair the Council's education committee in January.

Since Bill de Blasio’s co-location battle with Success Academy last spring, the mayor has backed off on his criticism of charter schools. But the City Council’s education committee is pushing ahead in its opposition to the sector.

Council Member and education committee chair Daniel Dromm submitted a letter to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute on Thursday requesting that the charter authorizer stop approving new schools “until you address the lack of oversight and accountability in this rapidly growing sector.” The letter repeats concerns raised at the committee’s May 6 oversight hearing about school discipline, high student and staff attrition, and their proportion of English language learners and students with special needs.

The Council has little control over the 183 charter schools located in the city, and no authority to mandate changes to SUNY’s authorization process.

But SUNY does hold sway over the schools it authorizes, and the letter requests that SUNY enact recommendations compiled by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform before it approves new schools. The report proposes that charter schools be required to “backfill” seats and publish disciplinary practices online, for example.

Charter school advocates were quick to paint the committee’s call for “common-sense oversight” as a political stunt.

“They claim their concerns are rooted in the need for stronger oversight and better quality controls, but it’s clear these are just excuses for what they’re really doing—carrying the water for longtime charter opponents including the teachers unions, who are key financial contributors and political allies at campaign time,” New York City Charter Schools Center CEO James Merriman said in a statement.

SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute is set to vote on 17 proposed schools, and accepts public comments on new applications through October. Director of Charter School Information Catherine Kramer said that the comments “will be taken into consideration” by the Trustees.

The letter was submitted the same day that Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter advocacy group, released a report on “The Forgotten Fourth,” or the nearly quarter of New York City’s traditional public schools where 90 percent of students are not performing at grade level in reading or math. Over the past decade, the report says enrollment at these 371 schools has dropped by 46 percent.

Want the latest in New York City education news? Subscribe to our Rise & Shine newsletter.

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.